The Oklahoma Transportation Commission last week approved spending up to $9 million to hire nine engineering consulting firms to ensure that $180 million of road projects would be ready to go out for bids quickly if Congress approves an infrastructure stimulus package in January.

The projects are some of the 100 road and bridge projects valued at $850 million in the state’s current eight-year road construction plan. Oklahoma Department of Transportation employees will do the engineering and design work on the remaining projects that are not covered under existing engineering contracts.

ODOT director Gary Ridley said he did not know if Congress would approve the program or how much money would flow to the state if it does, but wants officials to be ready when and if the economic stimulus package is enacted.

Ridley said his agency would focus on projects that do not require additional right of way or utility relocation.

“We did not take into account any political subdivision or any commission district when we looked at projects we could accelerate,” Ridley said. “Any we could accelerate, we moved forward.”

To avoid a possible construction bottleneck next spring, the department plans to award contracts on 76 projects costing about $106 million in January instead of 31 projects for $35 million as previously planned.

Ridley said projects planned for February and March were moved up so the state could be better prepared to award contracts later in the year if Congress acts shortly after President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Based on Oklahoma’s historical slice of 1.55% of federal highway funds, Ridley said a $10 billion transportation program should allocate $160 million to the state.

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