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Journal Record: State agency awards stimulus road contracts

Journal Record: State agency awards stimulus road contracts

This article first appeared in the Journal Record
March 31, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Transportation Commission on Monday awarded $228 million in road and bridge repair contracts funded by the federal economic stimulus program as part of the largest amount of transportation dollars spent at one time in the agency’s history.

The commission awarded $270 million in construction work including 48 road and bridge projects paid for by federal stimulus funds that the director of the state Department of Transportation said will transform some of Oklahoma’s most traveled roadways from “poor and terrible to great.”

“These are really good projects,” Director Gary Ridley said. “We have some major deficiencies in our roads and bridges. We have a huge backlog.”

Ridley estimated the value of backlogged road and bridge work in the state at $11 billion.

He said the money will not only improve highways but will revive road builders and related industries whose business has slowed with the downturn in the economy.

“It will create jobs,” Ridley said. “All of these people will benefit from this job creation.”

One contractor, Bob Lemon, vice president of Haskell-Lemon Construction Co. in Oklahoma City, said he received three of the stimulus contracts valued at about $12 million.

“We have been actively hiring people,” Lemon said. He said the company has hired 10 new workers and is looking for 15 more.

“There are many companies like ourselves,” Lemon said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Transportation commissioners authorized the road work while rejecting calls from state Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, to vote against spending federal money that comes with strings attached until the Legislature has a chance to vote on whether to accept the money.

“We keep the money. We don’t give it to another state,” said state Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation. Liebmann’s comments were followed by applause from an overflow crowd of road contractors and others who watched commissioners approve the projects.

“I’m proud of what y’all have done,” Liebmann said.

Secretary of State Susan Savage, a member of the governor’s stimulus money oversight committee, said Ridley and the staff at the Transportation Department had worked quickly to get the projects ready for construction. All of the projects are part of the state’s eight-year road construction program.

“We have a lot of work to do still in our state,” Savage said. “We’re very excited to see the money get to work.”

State Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage, who will oversee spending of the stimulus money, said he met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden recently to discuss details of the federal spending plan.

“Their words to us was spend the money quickly,” Burrage said while urging transportation officials to document how the stimulus money is spent and avoid waste, fraud and abuse.

“Know where you got the money. Know where you spend it and why,” he said.

The state received a total of $464 million in stimulus funds for highway construction projects. Ridley said another $100 million in projects will be awarded in April and about $50 million more in May.

Projects awarded in the first round of stimulus projects include road and bridge repair work along many of the state’s most traveled roadways, including Interstates 35, 40 and 44 as well as U.S. highways 62 and 69. Work should begin within the next two weeks.

Ridley said a total of $56 million is being set aside for projects in Oklahoma City and Tulsa as well as $26 million for county roads and another $26 million for small towns.

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