Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
In the race toward having the nation's safest highways and bridges, Oklahoma is gunnin' for No. 1.
Those were the comments from Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Mike Patterson as he addressed members and guest with the Northwest Oklahoma Alliance Thursday during a lunch forum and meeting at the Woodward Conference Center.
Patterson laid out the benchmarks for what is on the horizon for the department's new 8-year construction work plan for the state.
Harkening back to 2005, when ODOT funding was basically stagnant and had been for quite some time, Patterson pointed to a comparison between then and now.
"It is to the credit of the legislature that they decided that something needed to be done to allow us to do the work needed to improve our highways," Patterson said. "And not just them, but you, the people who said to the legislature that transportation needs to be a priority just like education."
During that last 8-year plan, Patterson said when additional state funding began pouring in, Oklahoma began the climb out of an embarrassing situation with regard to the bridges in the state.
"There was a time when we were number one in the percentage of deficient bridges we had in our state," Patterson said. "Not a thing we want to be number one in."
That meant that of the 6,812 bridges in the state of Oklahoma, 1,168 were structurally deficient, Patterson said.
"Now we are going into the next 8-year construction plan and we have reduced that number to 556," Patterson said. "We cut it in half."
For the first time, Oklahoma is not above the U.S. average on structurally deficient bridges, he said.
"We know there is going to be another bridge collapse in this country and we do not want it to be in Oklahoma," Patterson said. "It is a credit to the legislature who have allowed us to do what we needed to do to get here."
Patterson told meeting attendees that Texas ranks the highest in most structurally sound bridges with less than one percent of their bridges deemed structurally deficient. Right now, Oklahoma still has 8.1 percent but Patterson said those will be all but history in the next eight years.
"We believe in 2020, we will be less than one percent and will be number one or two in bridge safety for the U.S. , Patterson said. "So to Texas on their record, we say 'We are comin' after you.'"
Of the 6,812 bridges in Oklahoma, Division six, which is the northwestern portion of the state as it is divided by ODOT's map, has 290 bridges. Of those 290, 45 are still considered structurally deficient. At present, 11 of those are under contract and 36 are slated for work within the 8-year plan, he said.
Additionally, Patterson talked about a plan to coordinate with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to build eight highly functioning ports of entry on major truck route entry points such as I-35, I-40, I-44, and U.S. Highway 69.
The ports will function, Patterson said, just like a normal port of entry, not just a weigh station but a location for load inspections as well as driver information.
The ports will be large and built out to allow traffic to pass smoothly along and not hold up traffic flow, he said.
"They will have the technology for us to check the load weight while they are moving as well as the brakes and even the driver information such as how long that driver has been driving when he hits the port," Patterson said. "It is imperative that we know how much traffic and just what we have driving on our roads."