Truck driver George Earls says the ride in his big rig along Interstate 40 reminds him of the rodeo: "Strap on your seat belt, and hold on tight.” He and other drivers are feeling the bumps and jolts of roadways that have deteriorated under heavy traffic, years of neglect and, more recently, a particularly severe winter that has opened up countless potholes. Earls, a Knoxville, Tenn., man who has traveled across the country during his 37-year career, says as soon as he crosses into Oklahoma, he can feel his truck bouncing over broken patches, uneven pavement and dips in the road. State transportation officials say decades of insufficient funding caused them to forgo much- needed preservation and rehabilitation work. "It was like having five hungry kids at the table and only having money to feed two of them,” said Terri Angier, a spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department. "That’s what we dealt with for years.” She said heavily traveled I-40 is a concern. Suburban growth has boosted traffic and further stressed the highway from Oklahoma City east to Shawnee and west to El Reno. During the past few years, larger funding allocations have allowed the department to start making more improvements. But with an estimated $11 billion backlog in overall transportation construction funding, it will take years for projects to be finished. "It took 40 years of underfunding to get us where we were,” Angier said. "It’s going to take at least 10, 15 years for us to show the results that the average driver can see that there is improvement. We have really just begun that journey.” Snow and ice this winter caused even more problems. Salt and sand used to melt snow and ice are corrosive to metal bridges, said Casey Shell, director of operations for the state Transportation Department. Potholes are a result of moisture and freeze-thaw cycles. When water sits on the road surface or is trapped under a layer of snow, it can seep down between the layers of asphalt and freeze. As it freezes, it expands and starts popping off the top layer of asphalt. Traffic runs over it, creating potholes. Oklahoma’s urban highways are among the worst in the nation, according to a report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and The Road Information Program (TRIP), a national transportation research group. The report, titled "Rough Roads Ahead: Fix Them Now or Pay for It Later,” evaluated road conditions in the nation’s largest urban areas. In Oklahoma City, 41 percent of roads are in poor condition, which costs the average driver $631 a year, the report states. Oklahoma City has the 15th-highest percentage of poor roads among large urban areas in the nation. Tulsa ranks ninth, with nearly 50 percent of major roads in poor condition. Just hitting one big pothole could cause a tire to blow, said Lionel Carrisalez, manager of Hibdon Tires Plus, 4800 Northwest Expressway. Potholes and rough surfaces can also hurt a car’s alignment, damage front end components and wear out shock absorbers. James Jones, a truck driver from Memphis, hauls beef and pork across the country. He said the shaking and jerking on some especially rough patches of Interstate 40 takes many truckers by surprise. Jones said the bed of his truck sways when he drives over the bumps. "It’s pretty rough,” Jones said. "Freight gets jumbled around. Some guys have lost freight.” This summer, crews will be replacing pieces of concrete that are broken or rough along Interstate 40 between Oklahoma City and Shawnee. Other I-40 projects planned during the next few years between Oklahoma City and Shawnee include resurfacing, reconstruction and the addition of lanes along the Choctaw Road interchange and reconstruction and the addition of lanes between mile markers 170 and 173 at the Harrah/Newalla Road interchange.
The major projects include:
• Addition of lanes on Interstate 44 from the Arkansas River, extending east 1.1 miles to east of Peoria Avenue in Tulsa.
• Resurface work on Interstate 40 from mile post 325.02 to mile post 330.66
• Replacement of pieces of concrete that are broken or especially rough along Interstate 40 between Oklahoma City and Shawnee
• Roadway and bridge tie-ins at the east end of the new Interstate 40 Crosstown corridor
• Surface work on southbound to westbound off-ramps at the Interstate 235/Interstate 44 interchange.