Construction Experts Say $75 Million Stimulus Project is Not Stimulating Oklahoma's Economy

Thursday, September 17th 2009, 10:59 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team 

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The largest single road construction project ever awarded by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is underway in Tulsa. It's being built through President Obama's stimulus package.

A highly-traveled portion of the Inner Dispersal Loop around downtown Tulsa is getting a $75 million facelift. The project jump-started Oklahoma's quick spending of stimulus cash.

But, some experts question if it's really jump-starting our economy.

Larry Effinger used to be a project manager for Manhattan Construction in Tulsa. Last year he was laid off.

"It was a very tough time for me and my family," Larry Effinger said.

But this year Effinger found work with Manhattan Road and Bridge, who is overseeing construction crews working on the Inner Dispersal Loop.

"You know our company is looking like we're going to have a tremendous year, which you know, for the company is great. But, for the guys like myself and everyone throughout the company it means they have a job too," said Larry Effinger with Manhattan Road and Bridge.

Without $75 million in stimulus money, ODOT said this project, and Larry's job, wouldn't have been possible for several years.

In fact ODOT is looking at a more than $10 billion backlog of construction needs across the state. That's why they applied for $1.2 billion in stimulus money. But when they only received $464 million they didn't complain.

"This just allowed us to get ahead, a little bit further ahead in the game," said Gary Evans, ODOT's Director of Operations.

Construction lobbyist Bobby Stem is complaining.

"It's pretty fascinating because it's not what it was sold to be," said Bobby Stem with The Association of Oklahoma General Contractors.

"The stimulus package should have been called the sustainability package," Stem said.

Although it's saved some jobs, Stem said the stimulus package has not created enough jobs.

"If they would have doubled the stimulus package we may have had to go out and hire a bunch of people," said Bobby Stem with The Association of Oklahoma General Contractors.

An ODOT spokesperson said they could not come up with an exact number of employees ODOT hired in response to the IDL project. The spokesperson said ODOT hired 28 new employees to prepare for the total influx of $464 million in stimulus money. That's a little more than a one percent increase in ODOT personnel.

But, also according to ODOT, the IDL project is keeping 137 construction workers employed. That includes contractors and subcontractors.

Construction crews are stripping and repaving more than 4 miles of two-lane highway and stripping, redecking and repaving 43 bridges.

But there's one bridge in this project that caught the Impact Team's attention. It's on the west leg of the IDL, over what used to be Brady Street. Brady Street was turned into a dead end there when the Tulsa County Jail was built on the other side of the IDL. The Impact Team wanted to know why ODOT is spending the money to resurface that bridge.

"That removal of the bridge, coming back in with the fill dirt, the new pavement that would have to go on top would actually have been more costly than what we're doing at this time, so we made a conscious decision just to continue with a new bridge deck," Evans said.

But the project manager for Manhattan Road and Bridge, Larry Effinger, said they looked at filling the bridge in as a possibility. He said it would cost about the same as redecking the bridge, but it would take too much time to do the engineering and stimulus projects are on strict time constraints.

As for stimulating the economy, ODOT officials point to the long-term benefits of having a stable infrastructure.

"This will be a facelift for downtown Tulsa and the interstate, on I-244 down there," Evans said. "And I think with the other improvements the City of Tulsa made, will certainly pave the way toward the future and economic growth in Tulsa."