NORMAN — A group of University of Oklahoma engineering students is playing a role in efforts to address one of the state's most pressing concerns.
Students in the OU Bridge Squad work alongside Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers to repair, replace and improve bridges across the state.
The department hires sophomore engineering students as interns and puts them through an intensive training program, said Transportation Department engineering manager Annie Lombardo.
The students work up to 20 hours per week until they finish their bachelor's degree, she said. During summer and other breaks, the interns have the option of working full time.
During the internship, students work with department engineers on bridge projects from beginning to end.
Interns now are working with engineers to repair a bridge on Interstate 35 that was damaged when an oversize truck struck it.
Because the stakes of the projects are high — motorists drive over these bridges every day — the department asks much of its interns, Lombardo said.
And it can afford to be choosy. For every applicant the department selects as an intern, nine applicants are turned down.
“We hire the best,” she said. “We hire students that want to be challenged.”
Structurally deficient bridges have been cited as a major concern statewide. In 2011, nonprofit Transportation for America released a study that ranked Oklahoma as the state with the second-highest percentage of deteriorating bridges.
According to the study, titled “The Fix We're in For: The State of Our Nation's Bridges,” 22 percent of Oklahoma's bridges were deteriorating. Only Pennsylvania fared worse, with 26.5 percent of its bridges in disrepair.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has made improving roads and bridges a priority for her administration. In her 2012 State of the State address, Fallin called for a strong commitment to infrastructure improvement and has set a goal of becoming the state with the fewest structurally deficient bridges.