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Commission OKs final road-grading contract for I-40 Crosstown project

Commission OKs final road-grading contract for I-40 Crosstown project

OKLAHOMA CITY – The final $22.5 million road-grading contract for the $644 million Interstate 40 Crosstown project received the go-ahead from the Oklahoma Transportation Commission on Monday, during a meeting that also featured Director Gary Ridley’s outline of how his agency is handling monthly reductions in its budget.

The commission voted to award the last dirt-work project on I-40 to a joint venture of three highway and bridge construction companies. It is expected to last about one year and focus on the area just south of Reno Avenue at Pennsylvania Avenue, including a new bridge. The project will also complete ODOT’s rail work along the highway corridor.

John Bowman, project development engineer for the I-40 project, said completion of the project will mean that paving of the realigned Crosstown can begin, with the new highway expected to be open to traffic sometime in 2012.

Bowman said paving work will probably begin in late 2010.

Approved Tulsa projects include a $65 million project at Interstate 44 and Harvard, to replace a bridge and increase the highway to six lanes, and a $21 million project to widen U.S. Highway 169 from Interstate 244 to north of 46th Street.

Commissioners who oversee the Oklahoma Department of Transportation also agreed to negotiate with the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to share Ridley as director, at an increased salary to be shared by the two highway agencies.

Plans call for Ridley, who also serves as transportation secretary, to be paid about $133,200, which will be an increase from his current salary of $117,500. At the OTA, Ridley succeeds Director Phil Tomlinson.

Ridley said the arrangement will be a cost savings for both agencies.

The same person has headed up the state highway and turnpike agencies at least once previously, when Neal McCaleb was director of both entities in 1999.

Ridley also said that Congress’ recent decision to pass another continuing resolution for highway funding is adding to the agency’s difficulty in obtaining money from the highway trust fund. Rather than adopt a full six-year highway measure, Congress approved a 45-day resolution, which Ridley said expires Dec. 18. He said that will cost Oklahoma about $22.5 million in funding, following a loss of $15 million due to a 30-day resolution approved last month. He said it also makes it very hard to plan future projects.

“It puts us in a very difficult position to be able to do our work,” he told the commission.

Ridley said highway projects that could have been let had to be delayed due to inaction in Washington, D.C.

Ridley also reported to the commission that ODOT had to terminate about 65 seasonal workers recently to make up for a reduction in the agency’s monthly budget. Normally, he said, the department hires about 100 such employees, but employed only about 65 in June. State agencies’ allocations have been reduced 5 percent for each of the past three months, and state leaders last week said those cuts will most likely continue through June 2010.

The director said full-time-equivalent employee slots have been reduced by almost 50 since May and the agency may have to cut back by another 25-40 in coming months.

“We put on a freeze of hiring,” said Ridley.

He said exceptions include critically needed positions such as those in highway maintenance, engineering, inspection and related jobs.

Ridley said ODOT will also not purchase any light-duty vehicles this year and has reduced overtime and travel for all but critical needs. He said his means those types of vehicles will have to run more than the 175,000 miles they normally do before ODOT trades them in for new models.

If the cuts continue, Ridley said, the department may have to reduce spending for professional engineering services and other contracts and postpone construction work on highway contracts.

“It’s going to be some difficult times,” Ridley said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

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