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Winter leaves its mark on state highways

Monday, April 06, 2015

April 6, 2015
PR# 15-016

It’s not your imagination. The highway that you drive every day actually may have gotten worse in the past month, especially on some of the state’s older roads.

The snow, ice and freezing rain that fell in February and early March really did a number on the state’s road pavement conditions. Highways in eastern Oklahoma, in particular, took the brunt of a vicious freeze-and-thaw cycle this winter.

For example, Oklahoma Department of Transportation crews placed more than 500 tons of patching materials across four southeastern Oklahoma counties in a 12-day period after the last freeze. That is the equivalent of 45 dump truck loads of patching material and it’s close to the same amount used across all of southeastern Oklahoma for 2014.

Statewide, pothole problems have dramatically increased this year.

  • From January through March 2015, the department spent $177,936 on 1,691 tons of pavement patching material, which is a 32 percent increase.
  • In the same time period in 2014, the department spent $131,328 on 1,133 tons of material.

A typical driving surface can last about 10-12 years before requiring any resurfacing. The agency’s Asset Preservation Plan is designed to maximize the lifespan of each roadway but that requires regular maintenance to not be delayed. Normally, a road would receive an overlay before it becomes cracked. Tight funding and a priority on structurally deficient bridges means fewer dollars are available for life-extending pavement maintenance.

“The problems of 40 years of underfunding cannot be overcome in a few years,” Mike Patterson, ODOT executive director, said. “ODOT is grateful to the Legislature and the public for investing in the system’s bridge needs. Unfortunately, we cannot right all the wrongs in just a few years as we indicated when new funding became available in 2006. It will take a sustained effort to truly dig out of this hole and put Oklahoma back on track to meets its citizens’ transportation needs.”

Thanks to increased state funding since 2006, ODOT’s aggressive bridge replacement program has reduced the number of structurally deficient highway bridges from an all-time high of 1,168 in 2004 to 372 at the end of the 2014 inspection cycle. Many of the state’s 6,800 bridges were built in the 1930s and designed to last 25 to 50 years, but have been pressed into service for 80 years or more due to lack of construction funding.

“The bridges were the Achilles heel of Oklahoma’s transportation system and we had to get that under control,” Casey Shell, ODOT chief engineer, said. “But we have always said that there were as many pavement improvements needed as there were bridges to reconstruct. Due to the immediate safety concerns, we had to start with the bridges first, knowing that pavement needs would have to be addressed next.”

This winter’s frosty grip ripped more holes than usual in our roads, which is a direct reflection on the system’s pavement age and conditions. Even with more than $100 million spent annually on statewide maintenance, highway construction spending on pavement reconstruction and lane expansions remained flat from 2004 to 2014. As the most urgent bridge problems are resolved, the department will continue to push more of its construction funds toward restoring highway pavement conditions as previously planned.

Drivers will see the result of this winter through increased temporary maintenance this spring and overlay work this summer. Please be mindful of these workers as they are in it for the long haul to make your highways safer.

(Editors and News Directors: For more information, call the ODOT Media & Public Relations Division at 405-521-6000.)

Last Modified on Oct 23, 2020
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