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.