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Recent Oklahoma road projects cause headaches for some

Brandon King / Red Dirt Report
10th Street outside of Yukon is under construction.
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YUKON, Okla. -- It’s an early morning in January when Emily Sull was traveling down 10th Street in Yukon.

Sull had a little under 30 minutes to get downtown to her job at the Starbucks in Oklahoma City.

The time was seven and Sull believed the only obstacles in her way were red lights and stop signs.

This was before her car hit a pothole.

“I felt my car jerk forward and then slant to my right side once I had moved past it,” Sull, 25, said. “It was still sort of dark out so there was no way to see what the hell was lying out in the road.”

There, in the dawn of a new day, she had to get out of the car and change her tire. Drivers went by on either side of the road as Sull rolled the spare tire out of her trunk and towards the flat side.

After 20 minutes, a semi-driver pulled over and assisted her in putting the tire on. She was late to work but, as Sull put it, “my boss shrugged her shoulders and understood. Anyone who’s lived in Oklahoma knows about these roads.”

“These roads and highways of Oklahoma can be and look real bad at times,” she said. “You don’t really think about it until you’re stuck on the side of the road doing it yourself.”

While traveling down Interstate 40, one would find the road to have spots of grey concrete which has worked as bandages for a gaping wound. New cracks form and the patch-work continues.

Though there is rarely a pothole on the highways, it is not uncommon to have one’s car shake as you bump and ride over the roads.

Yet, Oklahoma drivers are always seeing construction happening on some part of the highways and side roads. This tends to cause traffic jams when the roads are bottlenecked to two lanes or one instead of four.

Sull recalls being late for school by the construction efforts which were happening at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday last November.

“I was headed to class to prepare for my final in engineering and all of the sudden I see a sea of red lights,” she said. “I started cussing in my car because I knew there was no other way other than forward. I was damn near 30 minutes late to the finals study.”

As Sull remembers, the traffic cluster began on interstate 40 next to the Bass Pro Shop and ended before the exit towards the Oklahoma State Capitol.

In the early mornings or the late evenings, construction crews can be found on the side of roads working to rebuild the roads and bridges. Digging up old concrete, pouring new concrete in, and making sure it is stable is part of the job.

Yet, these cracks and holes still cause issues for the drivers who commute every day.

Patrick Stone is a mechanic for Precision Tune Auto Care. For 10 years, Stone has repaired cars from minor to severe damage; some of this damage can be directly linked to the road construction.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ll get a car in here with a messed up axle, their alignments completely jacked, or the suspension on their car is shot,” Stone said. “A driver can usually tell if their car is acting weird but it’s safe just to get it checked every so often.”

Stone attributed the work under the car, including dents and scratches, to some of the construction done throughout Oklahoma.

“I drive a truck and I still have issues with these roads,” he said. “I’d like to think that the construction workers are doing their best here. Sometimes I’m convinced otherwise.”

Stone suggests mapping out your way to work and being aware of your surroundings while driving.

“Keep your eye on the road and try to avoid all potholes or anything in the road you’re not sure about,” he said.

It seems like road construction in Oklahoma is a never-ending venture.

When it comes to the construction of the side roads, these are contracted through various companies in the metro area. As for Interstate 40, this is part of a government project to, “restore and renew Oklahoma roadways,” according to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation website.

The phases of the projects are broken into three sections: Elk City, Choctaw Road interchange, and Shawnee.

Government funding for all the projects amounts to over $100 million.

The projects all started as early as 2015 and are projected as late as 2020 to continue. Further developments of other construction projects are to be determined.

Cody Boyd is the public relations officer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. He said that some of these projects will be located on the shoulder of the road; most of these projects are attempted during night hours or on the weekend.

This does not deter some traffic when it comes to major construction jobs. Most of the construction work is done by Duit Construction which is regarded as the lowest bidder for government spending.

Some of these projects, including the Cross-Town and Midwest City projects are finishing as soon as Monday, Jan. 22nd or in the next few months. These projects are sponsored by energy companies such as OG&E.

Construction can be either helped or hindered by the elements.

“Weather’s always a factor when it comes to all of our projects,” Boyd said. “We can do parts of our constructions during any season but not for all of them. It all depends on the weather on which part of the construction phase we do. Typically, construction begins in spring or summer when it’s better for teams.

Boyd said the problems with construction and routine maintenance work lies within the era the structures were built in.

“A lot of these structures were built in the 1960’s and 70’s,” he said. “So we have to reconstruct what’s already overdue. It was only just recently that the agencies were able to get funding for these projects.”

When it comes to regular commutes, a person might feel that the road is smooth on some parts.

On others, the car may be driving on a road worn by weather and experience. These weathered roads can create potholes and unstable roads over time.

According to Boyd, things like potholes and other road malfunctions are something that the Department of Transportation, “gets on immediately and fixes before it causes problems.”

“Of course, we can’t close an entire interstate to make the road smoother. We have to work to accommodate with the regular flow of traffic,” Boyd said. “We do regular routine maintenance on roads when necessary and fix them where we can. Things like potholes are fixed with short- time fixes we know won’t fix it permanently but we have to until we get enough funding for anentire project like the four on I-40.”

Given ongoing construction, Boyd advises people to, “go to our Facebook and Twitter to get updates on construction so you can plan accordingly to whatever you need to do for the day. We don’t want you to wait in construction; we want you to get where you’re going in the best waypossible.”

As for people like Sull, this is just part of the daily routine.

“I’m not sure what else can be done other than just trying to fix the roads that are ahead of us. We just have to get ahead of the problem,” Sull said. “I would say the best thing to do while driving is just be careful and take time into consideration going wherever you need to go.”

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Brandon King

Brandon King is a journalism student at OCCC, working towards becoming a professional writer....

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