Director says more state dollars needed to improve bridges

Tuesday, August 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ If Oklahoma doesn't get more money to repair the state's bridges the state could have a bridge disaster worse than the one that killed 14 people at Webbers Falls in 2002, Transportation Director Gary Ridley said Monday.

Ridley said the state road construction program needs a major increase in funding over the next 10 years.

Oklahoma leads the nation in bridges considered to be structurally inadequate, Ridley told commissioners.

At least 200 bridges are 80 years old, and 2,000 others are over 50 years old, the transportation director said.

Commissioners at Monday's meeting approved the state's eight-year work plan that includes projects to repair bridges and improve highways.

The 8-year construction work plan will be financed by $400 million in federal highway construction funds each year, Ridley said.

``I truly believe in the need to double the bridge program,'' Ridley said.

Ridley said the state could catch up on its bridge improvements if lawmakers would agree to invest another $50 million a year toward replacing bridges.

Replacing a bridge would cost $2 million while repairing one would cost about $250,000 each, he said.

The state uses its federal highway construction money for its road and bridge construction, and state appropriations for maintenance.

The bonds for the program are federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, commonly referred to as Garvee bonds, that states can use to build roads to improve economic development.

The program allows states to sell the bonds and pay them off with federal highway construction money.

The practice is being challenged in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

In 2000, the Oklahoma Legislature, with the backing of then-Gov. Frank Keating, passed legislation permitting the state to use the bond program.

On May 26, 2002, two barges pushed upstream by a towboat rammed the Interstate 40 bridge, causing it to collapse. Fourteen people died when their vehicles plunged into the water near Webbers Falls.