One-Time Funding Repairs 68 Bridges, But Hundreds Left To Fix

Monday, December 3rd 2007, 2:24 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Sixty-eight of Oklahoma's worst bridges have been repaired or replaced with a one-time $100 million appropriation from the Legislature, but state Transportation Director Gary Ridley said Monday hundreds more need to be fixed.

Ridley delivered an accountability report to members of the state Transportation Commission outlining the progress of the bridge repair program funded by the Legislature in March 2006.

Lawmakers approved the one-time appropriation to jump-start a bridge program that transportation officials said was critically needed to repair or replace 1,600 functionally obsolete or structurally deficient bridges in the state.

Normally, it takes up to four years of preparation, including surveys, design work and right of way acquisition, to replace a bridge. Ridley said the last of the bridge-repair contracts in the program were approved just 18 months after the fund was created.

"It was a really successful program," Ridley said. "It doesn't solve our problem. However, it certainly was a shot in the arm."

Forty-nine of the structures were load posted, meaning they could not safely support a legally loaded truck and in some cases not even a fully loaded school bus. The state has 71 more load-posted bridges left to repair.

Most of the repair work was financed exclusively with state funds, but officials said 23 bridges were repaired with a combination of state and federal money.

Transportation officials originally believed the fund would be enough to repair or replace no more than 40 bridges.

"Our job was to stretch this money as far as we could," said Greg Allen, a bridge engineer with the Department of Transportation. "It is rewarding to see this $100 million go as far as it did."

Oklahoma lawmakers have said providing more money for roads and bridges will be a priority when the Legislature convenes in February.

"They understand the problem, how serious it is," Ridley said. "What we would like is a long-term commitment with the discipline to stay the course."

Rep. Danny Morgan of Prague, the Oklahoma House's Democratic leader, told members of the commission that Oklahoma's is the 15th largest transportation system in the nation and that the success of the bridge program demonstrates how efficiently the Transportation Department spends tax dollars.

The agency's eight-year road and bridge maintenance program calls for repairing or replacing 480 deficient or obsolete bridges in that timeframe. But inconsistent funding levels threaten the plan and everything in it, Ridley said.

Legislation passed two years ago authorized $17.5 million a year in new transportation maintenance funds and another $32.5 million a year if economic growth pushed new state revenue up at least 3 percent. Under the measure, new road and bridge maintenance revenue is capped at $200 million.

Ridley said that when fully funded, the increase will be enough to replace 480 bridges over the next eight years -- three times what was originally planned. But this year, growth revenue did not meet the 3 percent trigger, and the Transportation Department did not get the full $50 million authorized by the legislation.

"That really is a concern for us," Ridley said. "Unless that triggering mechanism is fixed, all projects are at risk."

Ridley said the agency has no funding for another 626 bridges that are in critical need of repair, a $2.6 billion backlog in bridge work.