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Oklahoma OKs $5.5B plan to fix bad bridges over eight years

The Oklahoma Transportation Commission approved an eight-year construction work plan that will eliminate the number of structurally deficient bridges on state-owned highways by the end of 2020.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: September 10, 2012
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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.

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