OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's stimulus-funded transportation projects will come under the spotlight this month when the head of a congressional committee visits to see how the state is spending $465 million in federal contributions, the state's transportation secretary said Monday.
The state Transportation Commission has awarded contracts for 173 stimulus projects and has obligated almost $417 million, or about 90 percent of the federal stimulus funds that the state received for road and bridge projects.
Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, plans to visit Jan. 18 to inspect some of those projects, Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said.
"He wants to come and see firsthand," Ridley said.
Ridley, who has testified before Oberstar's committee, said the economic stimulus money helped jump-start the state's construction industry at the height of the recession and paid for more than one million worker hours. The money permitted the agency to accelerate work on some badly needed projects, but many others remain.
"It doesn't fix our problem," Ridley said. "However, it was a good shot in the arm."
Transportation officials have said the state has a $10 billion backlog in road and bridge maintenance projects. A 2007 study by The Road Information Program in Washington, D.C., found that Oklahoma roads have high rates of pavement deterioration, a traffic fatality rate higher than the national average and increasing levels of traffic congestion.
The TRIP report said 27 percent of Oklahoma's bridges are rated as structurally deficient and that 40 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. It also found that an average of 733 people were killed in traffic accidents annually in Oklahoma from 2001 to 2005.
Oberstar will be part of a delegation from Congress that is also expected to include several members from Oklahoma, including Republican Reps. Mary Fallin and John Sullivan and Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, Ridley said.
Among the stimulus projects Oberstar is expected to inspect is an improvement project along Interstate 40 near El Reno west of Oklahoma City and a $75 million project to improve part of Interstate 244 in Tulsa, the single largest contract ever awarded by the commission.
The I-244 project on Tulsa's Inner Dispersal Loop will replace the pavement along three miles of the roadway near downtown Tulsa and will re-deck more than 40 bridges. About 62,000 vehicles use the corridor daily.
Ridley said Oberstar will also inspect the I-40 Crosstown Expressway relocation project in Oklahoma City. Although not funded by economic stimulus money, federal transportation funds are helping pay for the highway's relocation.
The project is expected to be complete in 2012 and will cost more than $600 million.
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