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ODOT: It could have been worse

Jason Doyle Oden / Red Dirt Report
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Department of Transportation took a $156 million cut in the next state budget which begins July 1. The cuts could have been much worse. With that in mind, the Oklahoma Transportation Commission’s meeting on Monday didn’t have the sense of high drama its previous meeting delivered in the shadow of major cuts. The air of the meeting was more a sigh of relief.

The first order of business was to finish the business that couldn’t be completed in April. Because of the uncertainty of the budget during the legislative session, the Commission delayed awarding contracts.

Now that the ODOT budget was set at $1.58 billion for the next fiscal year, those projects could go forward.

“Just reminding everybody that the deferrals are from our last meeting where we deferred some projects. We’re now recommending approval since we have a certain funding solution for them,” said Commission Chairman David Burrage.

ODOT’s total budget is $1.58 billion dollars. That money will fund four main programs within ODOT; highways, county roads, transit and rail. The highway program will receive the lion’s share of the budget at $1.3 billion. The county roads program will get $207 million. Transit is set to receive $28 million, while rail will get $26 million.

The Highway Program has three major funding sources. Federal funds are $572 million. The ROADS Fund, which is an apportionment of income tax given directly to the department, is expected to be $468 million. The State Transportation Fund is projected to be $153 million.

ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson told the Commission the cuts could have been worse.

“If you’ll recall the last time I was at this podium in this room talking about budgets and legislation and impacts financially, we we’re looking at a piece of legislation that was decreasing our next year’s funding by $251 million. That impact, as you recall, would have stopped, suspended construction activities on several ongoing projects. Fortunately, we don’t find ourselves in that position.”

Instead, the cuts were only $156 million. If the larger cuts were put into place, ODOT would have faced a major challenge.

“That $100 million was the difference in shutting down projects this year. Ongoing projects and affecting the Eight Year Plan,” Patterson said.

The Eight Year Plan is a list of projects ODOT is scheduled to conduct as it reels in a backlog of bridge repairs and roads improvements.

Because of the threat of major cuts, ODOT engineers began devising plans to suspend current projects, like the I-235 project currently underway in Oklahoma City.

Last minute proposed cuts to specific programs would have led to altering the Heartland Flyer service from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth. Patterson helped negotiate a compromise to take nearly $1 million in funding from another source than the fund which pays for passenger rail service.

Patterson did deliver a bit of positive news to the Commission. He noted that the state has made major progress in repairing the deficient bridges across Oklahoma.

“You know, Commissioners, that we’re going to do everything to meet our goal with our structurally deficient bridges. The last official number that we have as of April was 251. We’re down from 1,168 to 251, so we are about 3 ½ percent of our bridges are deficient. At one time it was 17 percent. So, we are at 3 ½ on our way to less than one percent. We’re going to stay focused on that goal as best we can.”

There were also hints that the current closure of I-235 might not last as long as scheduled. However, there still are many months ahead before that project will be completed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this story was written, 1-235 has reopened.

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Jason Doyle Oden

Jason Doyle Oden is a proud Oklahoman. He's an experienced broadcaster and award-winning...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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