County bridges ‘deficient’

By Carolyn Cole
Published on January 31, 2008

Almost one-fourth of Oklahoma’s bridges are considered functionally obsolete or structurally deficient, a transportation official told Mustang business leaders.
Thirty-six of those bridges are in Canadian County, and many of them are located along Interstate 40.

Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of bridges needing repairs, David Streb, assistant chief engineer for the state Department of Transportation, told the Mustang Chamber of Commerce last week. While Oklahoma ranks in the middle of states with average population, the state has the 12th largest highway system, which he said means it’s a constant battle to find funding to maintain more than 6,600 bridges connecting 12,266 miles of roadway.

“We are talking about bridges that are supposed to carry the most volumes, the people and goods,” Streb said. “We are not talking about a very small city street that goes to two houses. We are not talking about a county road that hardly has any vehicles.”

Bridges that are in the worst shape are categorized as structurally deficient, meaning they can no longer carry the weight or traffic they were designed to endure. The worst of these are bridges with weight limits posted, and Canadian County has two — one on state Highway 66 at Purcell Creek between Yukon and El Reno, and another less than a mile north off state Highway 66 on state Highway 4.

Twelve Oklahoma bridges on the highway system are rated below 15 tons, meaning a fully loaded school bus can’t cross them.

Three years ago Oklahoma’s highway system had 137 load- posted bridges, but now the state has 69 left after repairs were made. Workers have also better identified bridges, placing warnings at large intersections so drivers can choose an alternate route. Before, Streb said most drivers continued across whether or not their load exceeded the weight limit because they couldn’t turn around safely.

“A few years ago I don’t think we could look ourselves in the mirror and say we were properly notifying people as they approached those bridges,” he said. “Now they come up, and they have a choice.”

While Oklahoma has 989 bridges that are labeled as structurally deficient, 595 bridges are considered functionally obsolete. Traffic may have exceeded the bridge’s design, Streb said, or the bridge could be considered too narrow or need wider shoulders or guard rails. Other bridges are labeled functionally obsolete because of sharp curves or steep hills.

“I think everyone in here has faced a tractor-trailer on one of our two-lane, narrow bridges,” he said. “It’s a little scary when you are coming down the hill, and lo and behold, you are faced with a tractor-trailer coming the other way, and you don’t know whether to speed up or slow down because you don’t want to meet him when you cross the bridge.”

Streb said officials are also worried about the narrowness of more than 5,000 miles of two-lane state highways with 12-foot driving lanes and no shoulders.
“On a sunny day, it’s not so bad,” he said. “You can have a pretty drive sometimes ... if you are out on a rainy day and you drop one tire off, you are in a world of trouble.”

While recent boosts in transportation funding, including $100 million approved last May by Oklahoma lawmakers, has helped transportation officials make headway toward repairing roads and bridges, Streb said the state has a long way to go.

Oklahoma is also heading toward a milestone in the age of the state highway system, as almost one-quarter of the state’s bridges are nearing their 75th birthdays. By the end of 2008, 975 Oklahoma bridges will reach their 75th anniversary, while 117 bridges will be repaired under ODOT’s eight-year work plan. By 2014, that number climbs to 1,583 bridges that are more than 75 years old, while 480 are scheduled to receive repairs.

“This concerns me more than anything,” he said. “How many people in here would feel comfortable driving over a bridge with a big yellow sign that says bridge ahead is 80 years old.”

Business leaders asked Streb about local concerns and repairs included in the eight-year plan. Five projects started in Canadian County in fiscal year 2007, including the installation of concrete barriers in the median on Interstate 40, spanning from Morgan Road toward downtown Oklahoma City. Streb said transportation officials are installing concrete and cable barriers along most major highways to help prevent crossover accidents.

Two projects are scheduled to begin in fiscal 2008, including reconstructing the Interstate 40 and Morgan Road interchange. The $23 million project is a partnership between Oklahoma City and ODOT to build a single-point interchange with hopes of clearing traffic congestion in the area. Streb said as soon as Oklahoma City officials finish purchasing right-of-way and moving utility lines, construction is expected to start this summer. Construction is expected to take two years to complete.

Eight other projects are in the eight-year plan, including resurfacing parts of I-40 in fiscal year 2012.
Business leaders also asked Streb about traffic congestion on state Highway 152 between Sara and Mustang roads. He urged city leaders to present a prioritized list of concerns to ODOT officials for consideration in future eight-year plans.

Others asked Streb about the future of Sara Road between Mustang and SW 15th Street. He told business leaders Sara Road is one of a few city streets ODOT has studied due to previous considerations to widen the section line road into a five-lane highway, carrying Kilpatrick Turnpike traffic through Mustang and onto state Highway 4, south to Tuttle.

Initially, plans called for an outer loop be constructed to attach the Kilpatrick Turnpike’s dead end at SW 15th Street to Interstate 44 and later Interstate 35 near Norman. Since then, neighborhoods have been built in the outer loop’s proposed path, and Streb said the highway will be expensive to build now. However, no environmental impact studies have been made or right-of-way purchased, he said, putting the proposal’s construction more than a decade into the future, if at all.

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