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Okla. road and bridge improvements scrutinized

Lawton_Oklahoma roads and bridges have seen a lot of work since last year, but officials say that it may be ten more years until we see real progress.  One year ago, the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis plunged into the Mississippi River, sparking a nationwide look at transportation departments.  Since that tragedy, Oklahoma legislators passed a bill to provide $30 million for repairs and new construction.  However, Oklahoma continues to be ranked number two in the country for deficient roads and bridges.

Last year's bridge collapse was a wake up call for Oklahoma legislators and the Department of Transportation (ODOT).  The tragedy jolted the state into closely scrutinizing Oklahoma's bridges and roads - and, we came up short.  "Almost one out of four bridges we have in this state is structurally defective - needs additional repair or replacement," says Congressman Tom Cole (R). 

Oklahoma is making gains in road and bridge repairs, and ODOT says that hundreds of bridges on the state's highways have been repaired or replaced over the past year.  However, they say we have a way to go.  Brad Burgess from the Oklahoma Transportation Commission says ODOT has repaired or replaced 242 bridges in the state at a cost of $682 million.  "Things are still pretty bad, but we are seeing some improvement," he says. 

Even with a one time appropriation of $100 million, high gas prices are keeping Oklahoma from getting the funding it needs.  More Oklahomans are staying off the road, and while it's good news for wear and tear on roads, it's bad news for ODOT.  "With less tax dollars coming in from those motor vehicle taxes and gas taxes, it's less money that you have to spend on the infrastructure," says Burgess.  He says Oklahoma already has over $35 billion invested in infrastructure.  "It's an investment that we need to take care of."

Cole says it may take sacrifice, but it's a necessary concession.  "We need more infrastructure spending, and that's going to call for some sacrifices in other areas, but we need to do more," he says.  "This problem didn't occur in one day, and it's not going to be fixed in one day."

ODOT says that over the next ten years, state funding is expected to increase by $2.7 billion in order to try and relieve the pressure.  Nearly 500 bridges are scheduled to be replaced in the 2007-2014 construction work plan - it's more than triple the number that was addressed in previous eight year plans.

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