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OK Editorial: As highway funding dips, end of road approaches

OK Editorial: As highway funding dips, end of road approaches

OUR VIEWS: New I-40 Crosstown

The Oklahoman Editorial    
Published: November 4, 2009

OKLAHOMA Department of Transportation Director Gary Ridley is scrimping and saving where he can in order to deal with the shrinking pool of available state and federal money, all the while keeping watch on what figures to be his legacy achievement — the new Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway, which is moving just a bit closer to completion.

Like all state agency directors, Ridley is having to make do with less. ODOT is preparing for additional 5 percent monthly reductions in state allocations through the end of the fiscal year next June. The agency had previously seen those allocations get trimmed because of state revenues that continue to fall.

In addition, federal funding for road projects has been sliding and that doesn’t figure to change any time soon. A short-term extension of the current transportation law means highway programs will continue to be funded at about two-thirds of what states were expecting. As a result, Oklahoma will receive about $22 million a month less from Uncle Sam, which will make it a challenge for ODOT to go about the business of letting repair and construction projects.

The agency planned for some of these funding issues by hiring 45 to 50 fewer seasonal employees during the summer. ODOT has put off buying new light vehicles such as pickups, vans and cars. The department usually gets rid of those vehicles after about 175,000 miles, but "they’re just going to have to run a little farther than that” before they’re traded in, Ridley said. ODOT has cut back on travel and most overtime, and has left about 50 vacant positions unfilled. "There may be some construction projects that we postpone if things get any worse,” Ridley said.

One project continuing forward, thank goodness, is construction of the new I-40 Crosstown which, when completed in 2012, will give motorists a smooth pass through Oklahoma City. That hasn’t been the case on the current crosstown in a long, long time. On the elevated portion of the highway, the wear from accommodating thousands more vehicles per day than it was designed to handle has left the road pockmarked and treacherous. Maintenance is seemingly never-ending.

Ridley told the Transportation Commission the final dirt-work project for the new highway will begin soon; once that’s finished, paving will begin on the section of highway that will run from about May Avenue to Interstate 235. He called it "a pretty big milestone in the course of the project.” We call it good news, because it means the washboard ride motorists now are subjected to is a little closer to being closed.

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