GARY Ridley's first job with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation was as an equipment operator. More than 40 years later, getting things done is still his priority.
Thanks to Ridley's leadership as director of ODOT, Oklahoma's roads and bridges are improving. Ridley is quick to commend Gov. Brad Henry and members of the Legislature who finally woke up to the agency's needs, but Ridley's direction shouldn't be understated.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, calls him the best transportation director in the country. Ridley's approach is refreshing: â€œWe don't like to be like some forms of government where you throw money at it and you don't get results.â€
Money was a problem for years at ODOT. The agency was appropriated the same amount every fiscal year from 1985 to 2005 â€” beyond ridiculous, in hindsight â€” before change finally came in the form of Republican-led legislation that addressed long-term planning.
Two events helped serve as catalysts â€” the death of a motorist struck by a chunk of concrete that fell through her windshield from a bridge on Interstate 35, and voters' overwhelming rejection of a proposed fuel tax increase to pay for road and bridge repair. These placed transportation squarely in the public eye.
When fully implemented, legislation will provide ODOT with about $400 million more per year for maintenance than it had in the early part of this decade. Since 2006, more than 500 bridge replacement/repair projects have been completed or started. â€œI'd venture to say there are very few states that have touched that many bridges,â€ Ridley says. There are 650 more on ODOT's eight-year construction plan that carries into 2018; there were fewer than 200 in the previous eight-year plan.