LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Budget cuts continue to take a tremendous toll across Oklahoma, with the Department of Transportation being the most recent victim of the cuts.
More than $200 million worth of road projects across the state have been canceled or postponed to make up for the budget shortfall, including several in southwest Oklahoma.
One of those projects is at East Cache Creek right off of Highway 7 in Lawton, where construction to replace the westbound bridge has now been postponed until 2025. That is just one of the 49 projects in southwest Oklahoma that, because of the budget problems, are either being canceled or pushed back.
Just under 30-percent of all the projects across Southwest Oklahoma have been impacted by the change. That includes the bridge at East Cache Creek, the interchange at I-44 and Highway 36, which is just north of the Red River and is being completely canceled, and one project which was supposed to get started back in May, the interchange at I-44 and Rogers Lane in Lawton.
"We're going to be upgrading the ramps to add some better free-flowing movements at the ramps. It's scheduled for a November letting," said Oklahoma Department of Transportation Division Engineer Jay Earp.
Earp said the changes to their eight-year plan were not easy to make, and there were a variety of factors that went into deciding which projects got to stay as is and which ones were forced to be pushed back or canceled.
"We look at accident history, then the capacity, then the dollar amount. We try to replace the worst bridges first, the projects with the most accidents first and the projects that maybe have a narrow roadway or a narrow bridge but aren't structurally deficient. We feel like we can put those off until later years even though we don't like to," Earp said.
Earp said safety is their first priority, but with the budget cuts, there are a few problems they won't be able to solve just yet.
"There are about 100 miles of two-lane highway that we're going to upgrade, people are very uncomfortable, especially at night, meeting another car," Earp said. "The lanes are narrow and you can't scoot over far enough onto a shoulder. Those kinds of upgrades, we're disappointed we're having to delay those kinds of projects as many as three or four or five years."
While it will allow ODOT to save money in the immediate future, these changes will ultimately cost the state money in the long run.
"A project that you had scheduled in 2020 and has now been pushed out to 2024. We're going to estimate it goes up as much as 9-percent on the project cost. When you're talking about a several million dollar project, the increased costs are staggering," Earp said.
There are several projects in southwest Oklahoma will not be affected. Plans to make upgrades to Highway 58 near Lake Lawtonka remains on schedule and will go on as planned, starting in 2019.
In Elgin, a project has been added, allowing them to build an acceleration lane heading east off the turnpike.
In Lawton, the pedestrian bridge off Gore Blvd will go on as planned, as that project is a special one brought to ODOT from the City of Lawton and was never part of the eight-year plan.