Progress and Challenges in Providing Safe, Efficient and Well-Maintained Roads, Highways and Bridges
Oklahoma’s extensive system of roads, highways and bridges provides the state’s residents, visitors and businesses with a high level of mobility. This transportation system forms the backbone that supports the state’s economy and contributes to the provision of a high quality of life in Oklahoma.
A decade ago, Oklahoma had significant road, highway and bridge deterioration and high rates of traffic fatalities. But beginning with legislative action in 2005 and continuing through state legislative action as recent as 2013, Oklahoma has undertaken a sustained commitment to upgrade the condition and efficiency of its roads, highways and bridges and to reduce traffic fatalities by modernizing its highway system.
By making this effort, Oklahoma has been able to reverse the deterioration of major roads, highways and bridges and has begun to improve traffic safety in the state by modernizing urban and rural roads and highways. These efforts have resulted in a large reduction in the number of state-maintained deficient bridges, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of thousands of miles of roadways, and the completion of safety improvements that are saving numerous lives each year.
But the state still has far to go to meet its initial goals through 2021 for the reconstruction and modernization of the state highway system, additional improvements in road and bridge conditions, and further traffic safety enhancements. Achieving the state’s goals for a modern, well-maintained and safe transportation system will require “staying the course” with Oklahoma’s current transportation program and doubling down on this effort by proceeding with further transportation improvements well through the next decade.
Population and economic growth have placed increased demands on Oklahoma’s major roads and highways, leading to mounting wear and tear on the transportation system.
- Oklahoma’s population reached approximately 3.8 million in 2012, a 21 percent increase since 1990, when the state’s population was approximately 3.1 million. Oklahoma has approximately 2.4 million licensed drivers.
- Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in Oklahoma increased 45 percent from 1990 to 2012 – from 33.1 billion VMT in 1990 to 47.9 billion VMT in 2012, higher than the rate of VMT growth nationally, which increased by 38 percent since 1990.
- By 2030, vehicle travel in Oklahoma is projected to increase by another 25 percent.
- From 1990 to 2012, Oklahoma’s gross domestic product (GDP), a measure of the state’s economic output, increased by 59 percent, when adjusted for inflation
Oklahoma has been able to rehabilitate approximately a quarter of state-maintained roads and highways since 2006 as the state continues to reconstruct and modernize its highways. While further improvements in roadway structural conditions, safety design and capacity are planned for the state’s major roads, Oklahoma will continue to face a challenge in maintaining surface pavement conditions and the need to further modernize its highway system.
- Since 2006, Oklahoma has made significant progress in improving the overall quality and condition of its 12,265 miles of state-maintained roadways, largely due to the increased funding approved by the state legislature beginning in 2005.
- Since 2006, 301 miles of Oklahoma’s 673 miles of Interstate were rehabilitated or reconstructed.
- Since 2006, Oklahoma has resurfaced, rehabilitated or reconstructed more than 3,000 miles of non-Interstate state roads and highways.
- Currently, 4,600 miles of Oklahoma’s state-maintained roads lack paved shoulders, reducing safety and limiting capacity on these routes. The state’s current transportation plan calls for improving 567 miles of these two-lane roads, including the addition of paved shoulders, by 2021, making these routes safer and more efficient.
- Currently 11.5 percent of state-maintained roads and highways in Oklahoma have pavements in deficient condition and this share is anticipated to increase to 12.2 percent in 2021.
The number of Oklahoma’s state-maintained structurally deficient bridges has been cut in half in recent years as a result of accelerated bridge replacement and rehabilitation efforts that were made possible by additional funding provided by the state legislature. By 2021 the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) anticipates reducing the number of state-maintained structurally deficient bridges to near zero.
- A total of 468 of Oklahoma’s 6,800 state-maintained bridges were rated structurally deficient in 2013. This represents a significant reduction since 2004 when 1,168 state-maintained bridges were structurally deficient. From 2006 through 2013 ODOT replaced or rehabilitated 823 bridges.
- By 2021, the state expects to replace or provide major rehabilitation to 924 state-maintained bridges, reducing the number of state-maintained, structurally deficient bridges to near zero.
- As a result of the significant improvement in Oklahoma’s state-maintained bridges the state’s overall share of structurally deficient bridges, including locally maintained bridges, that dropped from 27 percent in 2006 (the highest share nationally) to 18 percent in 2013 (the fifth highest share nationally).
- A bridge is structurally deficient if there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Structurally deficient bridges are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including commercial trucks and emergency services vehicles. Structurally deficient bridges are safe for travel and are maintained and monitored on a regular basis by the agencies responsible for their upkeep.
While Oklahoma has made significant safety improvements to its roadways in recent years, the state’s traffic fatality rate is still significantly higher than the national average. Improved safety features on Oklahoma’s roads and highways are needed to decrease traffic fatalities and serious crashes in the state. It is estimated that roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of all fatal and serious traffic crashes.
- Between 2008 and 2012, 3,559 people were killed in traffic crashes in Oklahoma, an average of 712 fatalities per year.
- Oklahoma’s overall traffic fatality rate of 1.48 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2012 is 31 percent higher than the national average of 1.13.
- The traffic fatality rate in Oklahoma declined from 1.57 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2006 to 1.48 fatalities in 2012 – a six percent decrease. During that time, the national fatality rate decreased 20 percent from 1.41 to 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel.
- The traffic fatality rate on Oklahoma’s non-Interstate rural roads in 2012 was more than two-and-a-half times higher than on all other roads and highways in the state – 2.52 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel compared to 0.92.
- Since 2006, 635 miles of cable median barriers have been completed or are under construction on Oklahoma’s divided high-speed roads. These barriers have dramatically reduced the number of fatalities resulting from crossover collisions. From 2007 to 2012, the number of fatalities due to crossover collisions in Oklahoma dropped from 39 to six.
- Nearly a third – 31 percent – of miles of state-maintained highways in Oklahoma (3,862 of 12,265 miles) are rated as either critical or inadequate for safety, based on an evaluation of safety features such as passing opportunities, adequate sight distances, existence of paved shoulders, recovery areas for errant vehicles and the severity of hills and curves.
- By 2021, the miles of state-maintained highways in Oklahoma that are rated either critical or inadequate for safety are anticipated to be reduced from 3,862 to 3,680.
- Several factors are associated with vehicle crashes that result in fatalities, including driver behavior, vehicle characteristics and roadway features. It is estimated that roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of fatal traffic crashes.
- Where appropriate, highway improvements can reduce traffic fatalities and crashes while improving traffic flow to help relieve congestion. Such improvements include removing or shielding obstacles; adding or improving medians; improved lighting; adding rumble strips, wider lanes, wider and paved shoulders; upgrading roads from two lanes to four lanes; and better road markings and traffic signals.
- Investments in rural traffic safety have been found to result in significant reductions in serious traffic crashes. A 2012 report by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) found that improvements completed recently by the Texas Department of Transportation that widened lanes, improved shoulders and made other safety improvements on 1,159 miles of rural state roadways resulted in 133 fewer fatalities on these roads in the first three years after the improvements were completed (as compared to the three years prior). TTI estimates that the improvements on these roads are likely to save 880 lives over the next 20 years.
Federal funding for Oklahoma’s roads, highways and bridges may be cut as early as this summer because of a lack of adequate federal transportation revenue. The current federal transportation program, which provides funding for the state’s roads and bridges, is set to expire this fall and will require Congressional action to continue beyond September 30th, 2014. Future state highway spending will also be reduced by $75 million annually, which will be required to pay off bonds that were issued to help pay for the state’s recent road and bridge improvements.
- The MAP-21 program, approved by Congress in July 2012, increased funding flexibility for states and improved project approval processes to increase the efficiency of state and local transportation agencies in providing needed transportation improvements.
- The impact of inadequate federal surface transportation revenues could be felt as early as summer of 2014, when federal funding for road, highway and bridge projects is likely to be delayed because the balance in the Highway Account of the federal Highway Trust Fund is expected to drop below $1 billion. This delay and uncertainty in funding will likely result in the postponement of numerous projects.
- MAP-21 does not provide sufficient long-term revenues to support the current level of federal surface transportation investment. Nationwide federal funding for highways is expected to be cut by almost 100 percent from the current investment level for the fiscal year starting October 1, 2014 (FY 2015) unless Congress provides additional transportation revenues. This is due to a cash shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund as projected by the Congressional Budget Office.
- If the funding shortfalls into the federal Highway Trust Fund are addressed solely by cutting spending it is estimated that federal funding for highway and transit improvements in Oklahoma will be cut by $625 million for the federal fiscal year starting October 1, 2014, unless Congress provides additional transportation revenues.
- Oklahoma is obligated to pay $75 million annually to retire bonds issued over the last decade to help pay for road, highway and bridge improvements in the state.
The efficiency of Oklahoma’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the state’s economy. Businesses are increasingly reliant on an efficient and reliable transportation system to move products and services. A key component in business efficiency and success is the level and ease of access to customers, markets, materials and workers.
- Annually, $117 billion in goods are shipped from sites in Oklahoma and another $135 billion in goods are shipped to sites in Oklahoma, mostly by truck.
- Eighty percent of the goods shipped annually from sites in Oklahoma are carried by trucks and another seven percent are carried by courier services or multiple mode deliveries, which include trucking.
- Highway accessibility was ranked the number one site selection factor in a 2011 survey of corporate executives by Area Development Magazine.
Sources of information for this report include the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the U. S. Census Bureau, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO),the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). All data used in the report are the most recent available.