Road projects stalled

At its May 1 meeting, Oklahoma Transportation Commission officials said they had told some contractors not to start certain projects due to budget concerns.

ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson reported to commissioners that the department had asked several construction contractors not to start work on 12 projects that were awarded in previous months. Additionally, Patterson has asked the eight field division engineers to prepare a plan of how to safely and responsibly suspend work on more than 80 road and bridge projects already under construction in the event that the deteriorating state funding trends continue.

“Suspending current highway construction due to a proposed reduction in state funding is not something ODOT has ever been faced with, but we are preparing for it now,” Patterson said. “Without a reliable stream of revenue coming in, it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to keep incurring construction expenses that we have an obligation to pay.”

Patterson noted that issuing new bonds to offset budget cuts is not a fiscally viable option, as in previous years. The agency has more than $485 million in outstanding bond debt, which costs about $57 million annually in debt service. Since 2010, the legislature has authorized several ODOT bond issues to help offset funding diverted from transportation. Now, the agency’s cash balance has been depleted to the point that ODOT is no longer able to cover the required payments up front necessary to receive bond proceeds.

The commission voted to defer award of new highway construction contracts for May, approving contracts financed with only federal and county funds.

Commissioners did award 11 contracts totaling $18 million to improve county roads and bridges in nine counties. Contracts were awarded for projects in Beaver, Caddo, Choctaw, Coal, Garfield, Johnston, Kingfisher, Nowata and Pawnee counties.