Crumbling Highway System Faces Crisis

Article excerpt

Oklahoma's transportation infrastructure is crumbling and highway users groups are pushing for money to avoid what they warn could be a crisis.

Highways and bridges in the state are deteriorating at a time when more transportation infrastructure is needed and a time when money for highway maintenance is declining.

That's the message the American Automobile Association of Oklahoma brought to a press conference Wednesday, part of a national campaign to make citizens aware of highway and airway problems that exist in the country.

Similar press conferences by AAA staff members were held in 25 cities, according to Chuck Mai, managing director of AAA Oklahoma.

Calling the deteriorating highway situation "insidious, it's the rumble we hear just before a tornado hits," Mai said the United States is facing a crisis ahead.

"I can sum up the crisis in two words -- design life," he said during the press conference that was held under the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway bridge between Harvey and Robinson in downtown Oklahoma City. "This system was designed 40 years ago, when most roads and bridges had a 30 year design life.

"Our interstate highway system is well past its adolescence and its middle age. Highways are the senior citizens of our transportation system."

Even though cars, trucks and buses rumbling overhead often drowned out the speakers, the site was chosen for the press conference because of the symbolism.

The bridge deck has potholes and needs constant maintenance, reinforcing steel of the concrete support piers is exposed, deck joints lead and bolts are missing from the steel girder section of the bridge.

While all bridges in Oklahoma are inspected at least every two years, this particular bridge is inspected every six months, said Neal McCaleb, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Oklahoma is not alone in the problem of crumbling infrastructure and lack of maintenance money. Nationwide at least one-third of all roads are in mediocre or poor condition, Mai said.

"The problem is much worse in Oklahoma, though," he said. "Two- thirds of our roads are in mediocre condition. Another 5 percent are in poor condition.

"In Oklahoma 40 percent of our bridges are obsolete or deficient."

The press conference and year-long national campaign are designed to create a grassroots understanding of the problem and generate a movement to get more money from Congress and the various legislatures.

"Another problem we have is the trust funds, tax money that people pay for highway and airways maintenance, are being used for deficit reduction," Mai said. "We are asking Congress to take these trust funds off-budget and use them for what they were intended. …