As Chair of the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Transportation, I continue to track our state’s progress on replacing or fixing deficient, dilapidated and dangerous bridges. We will get an annual report in December of this year, but as of last December, we are looking at 468 bridges that still need to be made safe.
In total, there are about 6,800 bridges along our state highway system. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation inspects those every year. With each passing year, bridges are added to the list, so our progress is set against a moving number.
In 2004, there were 1,168 bridges on our list – an all-time high. For decades, transportation had been stagnant. In 2005, Republican candidates came into office in a wave and began to prioritize infrastructure spending. State lawmakers joined Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley in taking politics out of the decision of how projects were prioritized. They instead set them along a schedule that took into account each project’s effect on public safety.
More recently, state lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin have worked to accelerate the schedule of these projects. We enacted legislation and appropriated money to eliminate all structurally deficient bridges by 2020. Last year, a proposal was made to slow down the plan in order to provide funding to other areas of state government. We soundly rejected that plan.
This fall, ODOT revealed a new eight-year plan of projects. I want to let everyone know that this schedule is fluid. As projects are accomplished ahead of schedule, projects can be moved up on their timetable. Many of the current projects that are scheduled for 2019 or 2020, for example, may take place much sooner.
The proposed 2015-2020 work summary includes 935 bridges. The total cost of these projects is more than $2 billion. To increase the safety of a number of Oklahoma roads, we are looking to make shoulder and roadway improvements to inadequate two-lane highways. This will cost us just under $2 billion.
I believe transportation funding is a priority in the state because of its effects on our economy and public safety. Old, unsafe roads are a hazard just waiting to rear its ugly head and they are also an eyesore that keeps business away from the state, especially in rural areas. They benefit every taxpayer they serve and are therefore a core state government service.
I will continue to discuss road and bridge infrastructure in my next two columns. I will include more discussion of the cost of proper road and bridge maintenance and how it affects the overall Oklahoma state budget. I also want to talk about how my district will fit into the eight-year plan.