Director: ODOT Looking At Recommendations Watchdog Made For County Road And Bridge Program

Jul 6, 2021

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The state's top transportation official said the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is already making progress on recommendations a legislative watchdog made last month.

The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency looked at ODOT's County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Program, which gives local governments state funding to make road and bridge repairs. LOFT recommended ODOT do a better job of telling school districts when they have deficient bridges on bus routes and require standard signs for them.

LOFT Executive Director Mike Jackson told lawmakers on the oversight committee districts are losing time and money driving buses on detours they may have been able to avoid.

"In the case of Ponca City school district, the transportation director would need to communicate with seven different entities in order to gain complete understanding of the condition of infrastructure and any related safety concerns within the district's boundaries," Jackson said.

State Transportation Secretary and ODOT Executive Director Tim Gatz told the state transportation commission Tuesday that's something the agency is working on.

"We've already taken some steps to beef up that communication effort and make sure that we're communicating with the local administration on the education side," Gatz said.

Almost 383,000 Oklahoma kindergarten through 12th-grade students ride a bus daily.

Another part of LOFT's advice was for ODOT to help counties decide which projects need to be done. Jackson told lawmakers in June where the state uses 10 data points to prioritize projects, local officials getting funds from CIRB don't really need to use any.

"In contrast to the transportation data metrics used by ODOT, LOFT found that CIRB fails to utilize a data-driven approach in selecting infrastructure projects, instead relying exclusively on county commissioners," Jackson said.

Further complicating things is many counties participate in engineering cooperatives with boundaries that don't line up with state transportation districts. LOFT made several recommendations for ODOT to help vet county projects getting state funds but Gatz said that gets into jurisdictional authority.

"The department has some limitation on our ability to direct projects on the county system without the full support of the board of county commissioners," Gatz said.

Lawmakers on the LOFT oversight committee did, however, appear interested in making some changes last month after hearing one in five county bridges is still structurally deficient.