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Road projects reaping benefit of Oklahoma’s stimulus funds

Road projects reaping benefit of Oklahoma’s stimulus funds

This article first appeared in the Journal Record.

May 20, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Road delays due to construction mean good things for the future of Oklahoma and are evidence that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has been working hard the last few months, said state Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley on Tuesday.

“Seventy-five percent of the stimulus funds have been committed to contract in 78 days,” said Ridley, totaling $350 million awarded for 113 separate construction projects across the state. “That competes with anybody across the country in how fast we were able to move.” As soon as the federal government gave indication that transportation dollars would be provided as part of the stimulus package to spur the national economy, state transportation officials began the process of selecting which projects would be funded first.

“What it would have taken us six or seven years to do, we’ll be able to do in the next 18 months,” said Ridley. That means the department will be doing a lot of construction in a short time frame this summer, he said.

“We hope the public will be understanding and somewhat patient with us,” Ridley said. “It will be an inconvenience to their travels, but when we’re done, we’ll have a better infrastructure and much more efficient system.”

The federal stimulus package included $16 million to improve public transportation in rural areas, which is being used to purchase new buses and vans that run on alternative fuels and meet guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The contract for rural transit vehicles was competitively bid through a coordinated process with the Department of Central Services.

The stimulus program also sets aside funding for urban transit providers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and Lawton.

The federal stimulus money is being used for its intended purpose and is having the desired effect, Ridley said.

“We have people working today who would not have jobs if the stimulus package hadn’t passed,” he said. The funds not only work to support ODOT construction workers and contractors, but those who work to make the asphalt, steel and dozens of other items needed to build and repair roads and bridges.

The Transportation Commission approved a $1.7 billion budget Tuesday for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which includes $600 million in federal dollars. The total budget reflects a $5.7 million decrease in base funding from the Legislature, which is offset by bond issues, an additional 5 percent of motor vehicle collections and other sources.

The commission also authorized about $41 million more in road and bridge projects funded with federal economic stimulus money, including $35 million for projects on the state highway system and $6 million for county road and bridge projects.

Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed to this report.

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