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Turnpike Authority Says Truck Traffic Is Up, But So Are Truck-Bridge Collisions

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Oklahoma Turnpike Authority
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A March photo of a bridge over the Turner Turnpike near Chandler, Okla., following a truck driver striking it.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority said Tuesday that while heavy truck traffic in August had risen to above pre-pandemic levels for the first time since travel dropped off due to COVID-19, incidents of trucks striking bridges have also increased.

"I think we may have had on the order of around seven or eight bridge strikes this year, which is quite a few for us," said Darian Butler, OTA's director of engineering, on a Tuesday meeting of the authority's board held virtually. "I don't know exactly what the reasons are for that."

"Many times these bridge impacts are being caused by loads that are improperly secured," said Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz. "It can be as simple as a trackhoe, or even a backhoe, that is not properly secured with the boom down that rides up during transport and subsequently strikes a bridge."

"Again, that just adds an exclamation point to anybody that's transporting any type of equipment, or any type of a load, for that matter, to make double sure that it's chained down, tarped, whatever needs to happen to make it safe," Gatz said. "Because, again, we're seeing way too many of these that are caused by those types of circumstances."

OTA officials said the parties responsible in bridge strikes are held financially accountable for reimbursement for repairs, but that the process still "creates major problems."

Wendy Smith, OTA's director of finance and revenue, said that the authority's revenues have been buoyed by an uptick in truck traffic.

"Although Oklahoma has completely opened up according to the governor's guidelines, Oklahoma, along with many other states, is still seeing a spike in COVID," Smith said. "So that actually slowed the rebound of our revenues the last couple of months."

Smith said passenger vehicles were down 8.2% this August compared to August of 2019, though that's an improvement from July of this year, when they were down 9.5%.

"This brings toll revenues down compared to the same period last year by 6.5%. Although OTA continues to see significant decline in passenger traffic, because these vehicles pay lower than heavy truck tolls, this decline does not have the same impact on revenues," Smith said. "Since the I-44 corridor contributes significantly to our truck revenues, OTA continues to fare better than most of the other tolling entities that rely more heavily on the commuter traffic."

Smith said OTA saw a year-over-year increase this August in heavy truck travel, the first month with an increase since the pandemic took hold, which she said has contributed to the authority's relatively good financial shape.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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