Oklahoma transportation officials Monday approved a road and bridge improvement program for the next five years that will clear the way for more than $903 million of new construction on county roads and bridges in each of the state's 77 counties.
The state Transportation Commission accepted the report, which calls for the money, which will be increased as a result of legislation passed this year, to be distributed equally by the state Transportation Department's eight transportation commissions.
About $316 million of the money in the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges program is earmarked over the five-year period to replace 389 structurally deficient county bridges across the state, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.
About 75 of the bridges will use recycled beams from the old Interstate 40 Crosstown bridge through downtown Oklahoma City that was torn down this year.
Gayle Ward, executive director of the county commissioner association, said bridge projects already are under way in several counties.
Legislature authorizes funds
The County Improvements for Roads and Bridges program was created in 2006. It authorized 15 percent of motor vehicle fees to go for county road and bridge improvements. The Transportation Department is charged with helping develop a program for how to spend the money.
Previously, the designated money went to the state's main operating fund, the general revenue fund.
Legislators this year passed and Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law House Bill 2249, which over three years increases the share to 20 percent.
It increases annual funding from about $85 million this past fiscal year to eventually more than $111 million.
Beginning in January, the county road and bridge improvement program will receive an additional 0.5 percent increase in the allocation of motor vehicle fees, bringing the total allocation to 15.5 percent.
In July 2013, a 2.5 percent increase will raise the total allocation to 18 percent, and in July 2014, a 2 percent increase will bring the total allocation to 20 percent.
Each 1 percent increase will generate about $6.2 million in additional funding each year, resulting in an increase of nearly $30 million when fully implemented.
The additional money will help allow counties to reuse between 1,500 and 1,800 bridge beams from the old elevated I-40 Crosstown Expressway. The beams from the nearly 50-year-old structure will be used in building as many as 300 county bridges.
“This is the next step in the process in order to get things done,” state Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said.
Tulsa repair work praised
In other business, Ridley told commissioners that repairs to a heavily traveled bridge over downtown Tulsa took about half the time expected.
The contractor, Manhattan Road and Bridge, which is based in Tulsa, used crews working around the clock and somehow got a specially made beam made and delivered in a short time. As a result, repairs were made in 15 days to the west leg of Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop, which had shut down the eastbound lanes of Interstate 244 north of the Arkansas River bridge.
A truck struck the bridge, which caused major structural damage to a beam that helps support the bridge, Ridley said.
The loss of the bridge further increased traffic congestion in an area with lanes closed around the Arkansas River bridge construction.
“We made a mess out of Tulsa,” Ridley said.
A truck with an attached hydraulic lift struck the bridge on Oct. 15 from below on Third Street while the attachment was in the raised position.
Repairs to the bridge were about $475,000, Ridley said.
Incentives of $20,000 a day for each day the project came in before the 30-day estimated time also were made because the bridge carried about 64,000 vehicles a day.
Manhattan Road and Bridge earned about $440,000 in incentives. The bridge reopened to traffic Oct. 30.
“We're tickled to death to pay the incentive,” Ridley said.
The truck was stuck under the bridge after the accident, Ridley said, and Transportation Department attorneys are working with the involved insurance companies to pay for the bridge repairs.
“They will get a bill,” he said.
CNG vehicles arrive
Ridley said the Transportation Department also received the first four compressed natural gas vehicles it recently ordered.
The four vehicles are sedans. The department is expected to receive the rest of its CNG vehicles — 156 pickups — in the next couple of months.
He said they will replace vehicles with about 150,000 miles on them.
Fuel savings over the life of the CNG vehicles should be significant, Ridley said, because of the lower cost of natural gas: less than half the cost of diesel and about half the cost of gasoline.
The purchase is in response to Fallin's efforts to convert the state fleet to compressed natural gas to save money, help the environment and work toward U.S. energy independence.