By TIM TALLEY (AP) Source Google News
A $4.3 billion plan to improve or replace hundreds of bridges and highways across the state over the next eight years was adopted Tuesday by the Oklahoma Transportation Commission.
The ambitious plan, which includes more than 1,750 transportation projects statewide, will mean Oklahoma will no longer be the state with the highest percentage of deficient bridges in the nation, said Gary Ridley, transportation secretary and director of the state Department of Transportation.
“This is a really good day for the agency; not just for the agency but the people of Oklahoma,” Ridley said.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re moving up the list.”
The plan, which outlines proposed spending on road and bridge projects through 2018, includes more than 650 bridge replacements or major rehabilitations as well as improvements to segments of Interstates 35, 40 and 44 and other major roads.
“The overall condition of our roadways will vastly improve,” Ridley said.
In 2002, The Road Information Program, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that promotes policies that improve roads and bridges, reported that Oklahoma had the highest percentage of deficient bridges in the nation, with one-third of bridges 20 feet or longer in need of repair or replacement.
The Transportation Department estimated more than 3,000 miles of Oklahoma’s 12,266 miles of highways — about 25 percent — were inadequate and in need of improvement or replacement and about one-third of Oklahoma’s driving surfaces, about 4,300 miles, were in poor condition.
State lawmakers began putting more emphasis on transportation in 2005 and dedicated more state tax dollars to road and bridge maintenance, resulting in a steady increase in spending on transportation needs.
In 2003, the state’s first eight-year road and bridge plan totaled $1.8 billion — less than half the current plan. About 530 bridges have been replaced or rebuilt since 2005 and other improvement projects have been authorized on major roads and highways across the state, Ridley said.
“We can see the fruits of our labor over the last five years,” Ridley said. “We’ve seen major improvements in our investment in the system. That has to continue.”
The department’s goal is to replace or rehabilitate 100 bridges a year, he said.
Ridley said transportation officials were able to accelerate the pace of many projects in the eight-year plan after the state received $465 million in federal economic stimulus money for transportation.
About 80 percent of projects listed in the plan, which relies on state and federal dollars, are actually performed, he said.
The commission authorized Ridley to execute agreements with the Oklahoma Capital Improvement Authority to repay debt from a $215 million transportation bond issue authorized by the Legislature in 2008. Officials have said the bond issue is needed to keep the eight-year highway plan on track.
Transportation commissioners also approved a $28 million contract to pave part of a new 4.5-mile long section of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City, the first of four paving contracts that will complete the project.
“What this is is the start of the finish,” Ridley said. Bids for two other paving contracts will be received this month and bids for the final contract will come in next spring.
The new highway is scheduled to open in 2012. The project will cost about $650 million.