The remaining 634 structurally deficient state highway bridges will be repaired or replaced by the end of the decade based on a work plan approved Monday by state road commissioners.
“Thanks to the governor and state Legislature's continued commitment to funding transportation, ODOT will be able to responsibly address the state's remaining structurally deficient bridges by the end of the decade,” Transportation Department Director Gary Ridley said. “After decades of major bridge problems, Oklahomans will finally have a safe and reliable bridge network that meets the needs of our growing state, and one for which we can all be proud.”
The number of structurally deficient bridges reached a high of 1,168 in 2004.
The eight-year work plan, approved by the Oklahoma Transportation Commission, amounts to about $5.5 billion — the largest ever — in highway and bridge improvements scheduled by the end of 2020. Federal funds make up about 55 percent of the money; the rest is state money.
“We put all of this money into hard assets — into concrete, steel and asphalt and dirt,” Ridley said. “We don't hire a lot more employees. What we do is put it into projects.”
The plan is updated annually to reflect project completions in the previous year, as well as adjustments in projected state and federal revenue and changes in construction costs. The plan approved Monday includes nearly 170 structurally deficient bridges that were not part of earlier work plans.
Structurally deficient bridges can carry legal loads but have problems that make them unable to carry overload permit weights, Transportation Department officials said. They are inspected more frequently than the federally mandated two-year maximum between inspections; structurally deficient bridges are inspected usually yearly or every six months. The bridges do restrict heavier vehicles, forcing some commercial trucks, school buses and passenger vehicles to take a different route.
Structurally deficient does not mean unsafe, but does mean the bridge should be repaired or replaced.
The state's investment in transportation is reaching an effective level to allow the Transportation Department to take care of decades of underfunding, Ridley said.
The Transportation Department also develops a four-year maintenance work plan. Ridley said the $460 million in maintenance projects over the next four years include work to address defective bridges immediately.
“We realize that we'll have some come on every year as we inspect bridges, but we think we have a plan in place that will enable us to address those as they do come on,” he said. “We want to catch it ahead of time.”
Funding has become priority
The Transportation Department has been developing eight-year work plans since 2002. The first plan totaled $1.8 billion, all of which was federal funds.
State money wasn't appropriated for the eight-year plan until 2006. For a time, Oklahoma was the only state that relied solely on federal funds for its eight-year plan, a Transportation Department spokeswoman said.
Efforts to increase state road funding have been ongoing in the Legislature the past 10 years. Former Gov. Brad Henry encouraged the Transportation Department to develop the eight-year plan, and lawmakers — especially since Republicans took control after the 2004 elections — have made transportation funding a priority.
Legislators this year passed House Bill 2248, which calls for an annual increase to a special Transportation Department fund from $41.7 million to $59.7 million. The money comes from income tax collections. The fund will continue receiving an incremental increase of $18 million annually until the fund reaches a $575 million cap; the fund now has $435 million.
The increased payments begin July 1, 2013, the start of the state's 2014 fiscal year. The money will fund the eight-year plan, which now will include the nearly 170 structurally deficient bridges on the state highway system by 2020.
“As governor, my No. 1 priority has always been to create jobs and help businesses grow,” Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed HB 2248 into law, said in a statement. “We know that one part of that formula is to deliver a safe, modern and easily traversed transportation infrastructure. The eight-year plan and the bridge improvement and turnpike modernization plan aren't just about repairing old bridges and roads; they're about investing in our future.”
The eight-year plan consists of 2,030 total projects. Of those, 951 are bridge replacement or major rehabilitation projects, the largest number of bridge projects ever planned.