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Funding questions delay Oklahoma roadwork

Funding questions delay Oklahoma roadwork

After Congress failed to stop a cut in highway money, construction contracts in jeopardy

Published: October 6, 2009

Drainage improvements in Osage County and several interstate safety projects are among construction projects that won’t be contracted in November, because Congress failed to act on legislation last week, a state transportation official said.

State Transportation Department Director Gary Ridley said Monday during the monthly meeting of the state’s Transportation Commission that fewer projects will be put out for bids because the state is unsure of how much federal money is available.

Ridley said some projects could be put on a list for December, if federal funding is approved.

"As engineers, we like to have these things planned out long-term,” he said. "We have an eight-year construction plan and now we’re dealing with an unknown and uncertainty. It creates a pause for us.”

The department can only award contracts for projects it can pay for, and without assurances on federal highway funding, only construction paid for with state or federal stimulus dollars can be awarded this month, he said.

Projects across the state that could be put on hold, include three drainage and bridge projects in Osage County that total nearly $37 million, a $1.8 million safety improvement along Interstate 44 in Tulsa County, and a $1.3 million cable barrier project on I-35 in Noble County.

Last week, Congress failed to approve a measure that would stop an $8 billion cut to state highway transportation departments for the federal fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Congress approved a 30-day extension. In previous years, lawmakers passed an 18-month continuing resolution to allow states to continue with long-term planning.

For Oklahoma, it could mean a loss of up to $40 million, Ridley said. The state has to make a $22.8 million bond payment before using money to fund road projects, he said.

Meanwhile, the state continues to use federal stimulus dollars to fund contracts. Stimulus dollars also are being used by 24 communities to upgrade sidewalks and make them handicap-accessible. Because the communities are along roadways maintained by the state Transportation Department, the federal dollars can be used for improvements. Projects are in the design phase in communities such as Tryon, Langston, Locust Grove, Shattuck, Vian and Hardesty.

The Transportation Commission also approved a proposal for bridge repairs in 21 counties. County crews will do the work.

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