Sixteen years after being in 49th place for bridge conditions in the country, Oklahoma now ranks ninth.
At last count, 86 bridges on the state highway system — 1.3% — were considered structurally deficient. That’s down from almost 20% in 2004, thanks to 15 years of dedicated state funding and chasing federal grants to fix the problem.
"Over the course of my 30-year career in transportation, I’ve watched the department go from managing our bridge infrastructure with Band-Aids and baling wire to being top-10 in the country. That’s a remarkable achievement," said Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz.
Association of Oklahoma General Contractors Executive Director Bobby Stem said the impetus for those strides was the death of Yvonna Osborn. The mother of two from Irving, Texas, was killed by a chunk of concrete that fell off a bridge on I-35 in Garvin County, leading officials to prioritize funding bridge repairs.
"Forty-ninth in the nation to ninth. When have you ever, ever opened up the paper and seen Oklahoma jump 40 in any ranking? And that’s where we are today. I wish Ms. Osborn’s children were up here with me today. That would make me happy," Stem said.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s latest eight-year work plan includes the remaining deficient bridges.
The No. 9 ranking is only for bridges on the state highway system. Statewide, about 16,000 bridges on city and county roads need work.