MIAMI – The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has a huge responsibility being tasked with maintaining 12,265 miles of highways to provide a safe transportation network in the 28th largest state in the union.
At a luncheon sponsored by the Miami Area Chamber of Commerce, ODOT Division 8 Engineer Randle White presented information and gave an update on ODOT projects.
White said Oklahoma's highway network is the 17th largest network in the U.S. with 6,828 bridges. ODOT's eight field divisions with 2,300 employees are responsible for maintaining the states infrastructure of highways and bridges. White said in the 1990s ODOT had 3,200 employees and has downsized to be more efficient and save money to be put toward roads.
“Sixty-seven million vehicle miles are traveled daily in Oklahoma, the 28th largest state in the nation. That is fourth per capita in daily miles traveled in the U.S.,” he said.
White said several Ottawa county projects are planned with work starting next week on Highway 10c with work on the bridge near the state line.
Future projects for the county include a Highway 137 bridge replacement, the Highway 10 Spring River Bridge planned for 2016, replacing the decking of the bridge over the Neosho River planned for 2018, and improvements of 10c to two 12 foot lanes with 8 foot shoulders and Highway 125 improvements including replacing the bridge over the Will Rogers Turnpike in 2019.
White would not give a projection for a more specific start time, construction or completion time on the Neosho Bridge project at this time. He said asphalt cannot be put over the Neosho River bridge because it will hold water and add weight causing further issues to the bridge.
According to White, funding for ODOT projects comes from a state fuel tax of 7 cents per gallon on gas and 14 cents on diesel and Federal fuel tax of 18 cents per gallon on gas and 24 cents on diesel.
“A lot of people think that changes with the price of gas, but it doesn't it's consistent,”White said.
Additional funding comes from Federal funding through the Highway Trust Funds and the State's Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) Fund to help address these issues.
Oklahoma House Bill 1078 implemented under Governor Mary Fallin provided initial funding beginning in 2005 for the state's ROADS Fund which allowed for more progress in infrastructure improvement according to White.
“We went from 1985 to 2005 with no increase,” White said of ODOT's funding. “It made us become more of a reaction agency, we basically were reacting to critical situations rather than being able to plan. During that time frame we developed the reputation as having some of the worst bridges in the nation ... In 2005 we started seeing changes.”
He said ODOT with the state's investment in infrastructure since 2005 and the development of the ROADS Fund, now has a long term transportation plan in place, which allows prioritization of projects in accordance with available funding.
“The ROADS Fund provides a consistent funding source,” he said. “Seventy-eight percent of the funding we get goes back into capital improvements and we think that's a significant number. We've got about 12 percent put back into routine maintenance signage and striping and that type of thing.”
White told the crowd of chamber members present that there are now 1,500 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in the state of Oklahoma, and 137 with load postings.
“We've been focusing on bridges and we've made good progress,” White said. “We are trying to be proactive rather than reactive. We think that's the responsible thing to do.”
He shared an innovative new method used during the replacement of the Highway 51 bridge near Manford using a concrete bridge built to the side and then slid into place on the highway. Although this method is more expensive, it allowed the highway to remain open and avoided other economic losses to businesses and tourism.
“They built the new bridge, closed the road down, slid the new bridge in place and opened to traffic in 11 days,” White said. “This is the first time we've done this in the state.”
Since 2006 to 2013 ODOT has replaced or repaired 948 bridges in the state according to White, with plans to complete 390 more this year.
In addition to bridges ODOT is working to improve highways including problems with steep hills and sharp curves and two way roads with no curbs.
ODOT has $75 million budgeted in state and federal funding this year for surface rehabilitation, of 583 miles of two-lane roadway improvements and 540 miles of interstate pavement improvements and $2.36 billion in high-volume major highway improvements planned according to White.
“We've come a long way since 2005,” White said. “Hopefully you all are seeing an improvement.”