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Transportation Department deals with fund cuts

Transportation Department deals with fund cuts

 

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT - The Oklahoman

 

Published: November 3, 2009


State transportation officials are bracing for less money both from the state and federal governments.

The state Transportation Department, like other state agencies, is preparing for additional 5 percent monthly reductions in state allocations through June, the end of the state’s fiscal year, Gary Ridley, the department’s director said during Monday’s Oklahoma Transportation Commission meeting.
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Also, the state can continue to expect less money from the federal government as Congress put off for the second time approving a highway funding bill.

The Transportation Department planned for some of the state funding cuts by not hiring as many seasonal employees during the summer, Ridley said. The department in June hired about 60 instead of the usual 110 to help with various road projects; the department terminated all the seasonal summer workers in August.

The department will pass up buying pickups, vans and cars during the state fiscal year, he said. Usually, the department replaces vehicles when they get about 170,000 miles on them.

"They’re just going to have to run a little father than that before we trade them,” Ridley said.

The department also stopped hiring any additional employees except to replace maintenance workers who especially will be needed during inclement winter driving conditions, he said. The department also will replace any inspectors in order to make sure projects are being done according to plans.

Travel also is being restricted, Ridley said.

In Congress, another continuing resolution was approved last week that extends the current transportation law until Dec. 18. Ridley said the short-term extension, the second passed so far, will continue to fund highway programs at levels 33 percent lower than what states had been receiving.

That amounts to a monthly loss of $1 billion for states, he said. Oklahoma will lose about $15 million a month; the latest extension puts the loss at about $22.5 million, which makes it difficult for state leaders to plan ahead and could possibly delay some projects.

"Sometimes you don’t have enough money in one particular category in order to let projects,” Ridley said. "We have to have the money in hand before we can let a project.”

Meanwhile, the state Transportation Department has obligated nearly 90 percent of the $465 million in federal stimulus money for road and bridge projects, said Tim Gatz, director of capital programs for the Transportation Department. The $412 million represents funding about 172 projects.

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