OKLAHOMA CITY — Forty planned road projects across the state have been axed amid the state’s ongoing budget woes, Oklahoma’s transportation secretary announced Monday.
Mike Patterson, who also serves as the executive director of the Department of Transportation, said additional projects could face the chopping block as lawmakers consider taking more transportation funds to fill a lingering state budget shortfall topping more than $200 million.
In the last eight years, Patterson said lawmakers have drained about $838 million from the Department of Transportation’s coffers to help pay for the overall state budget.
This year alone, Patterson said his agency lost $153 million in funds that were supposed to pay for critical infrastructure improvements like resurfacing, relocating and widening roadways across the state.
“Up until this year, we were able to keep all the projects in the plan, but this year the loss was so great, we’re to the point it’s a snowball effect,” he said.
Bobby Stem, director of Association of Oklahoma General Contractors, said the loss of 40 projects is “highly disappointing” for an industry that employs nearly 30,000 Oklahomans and buys most of its road supplies from local businesses.
“Roads and bridges are the most used core function of government… and yet (lawmakers) come to ODOT to pull money out to balance the rest of the budget,” Stem said. “The result is we’re not going to fix some of these dangerous bridges. We’re not going to widen some these dangerously narrow roads.”
Also, he said the cuts may cost some Oklahomans their jobs.
Transportation Commission Chairman David Burrage said the loss of 40 projects means the agency will renege on promises made to local communities, and the state will struggle to keep up with needed repairs and upgrades.
Patterson said his agency will focus on the state’s major corridors like Interstates 40 and 35 as well as U.S. Highways 270 and 54.