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Oklahoma working to improve bridges after decades of deficiencies

Tulsa highways
Posted at 4:17 PM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-15 14:30:27-05

TULSA, Okla. — More than a decade ago, Oklahoma ranked among the worst in the country for the safety of its bridges.

Since then, billions of dollars found their way to fund the state's transportation system.

“When Webber’s Falls happened, we had to detour Interstate-40 traffic onto the rural highway system around the Arkansas River crossing, and that sort of put a magnifying glass on the condition of that rural network," says Justin Hernandez, an Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineer.

Hernandez says carrying interstate traffic and the additional load beat those bridges down, revealing the larger problem. "If a bridge is deemed structurally deficient, it means that it needs to be repaired."

Oklahoma ranked 49th in the U.S. in 2004 for bridge safety when 1,168 of the 6,800 bridges maintained by ODOT were considered structurally deficient or poor. From about 1985-2005, state funding to fix bridges was based almost entirely on motor fuel taxes which remained stagnant at about $2 million annually for years.

The lack of funding left the state with some of the worst highways and bridges in the country. Since then, ODOT says Oklahoma ranks 7th in the U.S. for bridge safety with 67 bridges statewide considered deficient.

Significant improvements included the I-244 Arkansas River bridge, and bridges on the Inner Dispersal Loop (IDL) West 23rd Street over I-244 and the BNSF railroad.

The state's current eight-year plan includes more than $6 billion in improvements and includes projects to address 609 bridges and 1,900 miles of highway pavement.

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