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ODOT will upgrade bridges

Gov. Mary Fallin's proposals to address revenue shortfalls in the state budget will allow the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to stay on track with its plan to upgrade bridges across the Sooner State, Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said.

Ridley, who was in Lawton late last week to talk to residents, brought along ODOT's update on its bridges and highway plan, a concerted effort launched a decade ago to address what state officials then identified as 1,500 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges.

Ridley said Oklahoma had the highest number of deficient bridges in the country during the 2007-2008 time frame when the report was drafted. He said Oklahoma ranks sixth or seventh in the nation for its number of bridges and its 6,800 count is the number of state bridges eligible for federal aid; it does not include county structures.

While ODOT's long-range plan has addressed many deficient bridges, Oklahoma still has 321 structurally deficient bridges on its repair list. Comanche County has no structurally deficient bridges, although state officials have identified six functionally obsolete (bridges narrower than their road approaches) in the county, including five in the Lawton-Fort Sill area.

Ridley expects that 321 figure to be trimmed to less than 300 when ODOT's report comes out in April, and while that is notable progress, he said it still is too many. He said ODOT's goal is reducing the number of deficient bridges to 90-100 as part of its overall goal to repair or replace 90 bridges a year with its $400 million in funding.

Ridley said keeping pace with bridge repair is a problem of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, but not the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. That entity, which controls about 800 miles of toll roads in the state, has been able to keep pace with its bridges, although it must begin addressing road surfaces throughout the system, Ridley said.

That is being done in this area of the state, with the repair project on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike just south of the Oklahoma City limits. Tim Gatz, executive director of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said that project is about half complete and he predicted vehicles now being funneled to the older traffic lanes in the work area will be transferred to newly built lanes in the next 30 days so construction can continue.

In a related project, Gatz said contractors also are about half-way through their year-long project to build a new toll plaza near Chickasha, a modern facility with a high speed PikePass lane under construction 12 miles south of the existing toll plaza.

The Lawton Constitution

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