Oklahoma funding cuts reduce highway, bridge work

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DALLAS – After years of state funding cuts, Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials say they've been forced to eliminate $204 million in projects from its eight-year plan.

The department has absorbed $840 million in state funding cuts over the last seven years, ODOT officials said Monday.

“It was very challenging and frustrating to rebalance the eight-year plan while keeping our commitment on structurally deficient bridges and trying to address pavement conditions and urban highway congestion,” said ODOT executive director Mike Patterson. “The cumulative state funding reductions since 2010 have produced a snowball effect where projects have been pushed back later and later and now they’re being pushed out of the plan, which changes our strategy and moves us in the wrong direction.”

Overall, 40 construction projects worth more than $204 million were removed from the updated eight-year plan and about 42% of all programmed projects are being delayed at least one year, ODOT officials told the Oklahoma Transportation Commission that governs the agency. The total includes 65 projects that were originally scheduled to go to bid this year. Several projects have been significantly reduced in scope to stretch funding as far as possible.

Project delays ultimately cost Oklahoma taxpayers in increased maintenance necessary to preserve highways and bridges and higher construction costs, which are up 67% nationally since 2003, according to ODOT.

“In addition to direct financial costs, Oklahomans also will spend more time stuck in traffic congestion and face rougher roads,” the agency said.

While the plan’s top priority remains replacing or rehabilitating Oklahoma’s existing structurally deficient highway bridges by the end of the decade, it falls short on other major needs including improving pavement conditions, adding shoulders to two-lane highways and addressing growing urban highway congestion, officials said.

“Even as the state nears its decade-old goal to address all remaining structurally deficient highway bridges by 2020, ODOT estimates that 90 bridges will still have to be replaced or rehabilitated each year just to keep up with the aging infrastructure system,” ODOT said. “Only 15 bridges were added to this eight-year plan.”

Each year, the plan is updated to reflect project completions, adjustments in projected revenue and changes in construction costs, officials said. As the previous fiscal year comes off of the plan, another year is added based on forecasting of available funding. Funding comes from state income tax allocation and state motor fuel tax appropriation, as well as the federal Highway Trust Fund.

With its economy ailing in the oil and gas slump, Oklahoma has faced severe revenue shortfalls in recent years. In the current fiscal year, state lawmakers had to fill a $1.5 billion budget gap. They are currently in a special session seeking to replace $213 million of cigarette tax revenue lost in a state Supreme Court ruling that the measure violated the constitution.

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