Oklahoma DOT Warns Drivers to Expect Months of Problems from Heavy Flooding

AASHTO Journal, 5 June 2015

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is telling users of its roads and bridges to expect months of trouble from heavy May floods that have already closed some bridges for weeks.

It is also warning that the cost of repairs may be in the “tens of millions” of dollars, for an agency that already faced “less available funding for maintenance due to cuts in the difficult budget year.”

While Memorial Day storms in Oklahoma, Texas and nearby states garnered most of the attention, ODOT said its workers had fought storms for weeks.

“Since early May,” its announcement said, “ODOT maintenance crews have been barricading flooded highways, making emergency repairs to washouts, clearing driftwood from under bridges, flagging traffic and reporting rapidly changing conditions.”

Executive Director Mike Patterson briefed the Oklahoma Transportation Commission at its June 1 meeting. “The torrential rains and unprecedented flooding have been very challenging,” he said. “I’m certainly proud of our ODOT maintenance crews who have been working tirelessly the last few weeks and gave up their Memorial Day holiday to ensure public safety.”

The agency said since the first storms in early May, there have been up to 40 highway closures statewide in one day due to floods, which cut off communities and caused long detours for drivers.

Passenger rail service on the Amtrak Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, was also disrupted by track damage, forcing the rail service to shuttle passengers by bus in one area. Some state-owned freight rail lines have also been closed as a result of flooding.

As flood waters recede from roadways, ODOT said its maintenance crews will attempt to make repairs within their capabilities but that contractors will be needed for highways and bridges with greater damage.

ODOT also said the damage costs rose as storms and flooding worsened in recent weeks, ODOT said, such as by causing landslides.

On June 3, U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx said Oklahoma could draw on $1 million in emergency relief funds from the Federal Highway Administration. The announcement also called that award “the first installment toward repairs to federal-aid highways,” which would be applied to landslide damage to three major highways.

“We are aware of Oklahoma’s ongoing need to repair damage caused by recent rains and flooding,” said Foxx. “The funding provided today is the first step toward the recovery process.”

Looking ahead beyond the flooding, the state agency said that “drivers will face traffic delays in the coming months due to potholes caused by saturated roadbeds.”

And citing “widespread damage to local roads and bridges,” ODOT said it and other state agencies “will provide immediate support to counties” to get repairs started as soon as possible.

It noted that county roads are eligible for different types of emergency federal funding, and said ODOT and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority will provide emergency response teams of engineers to help assess and report damage, set up projects and then support the counties in obtaining funds through the FHWA’s emergency relief account.

OK Road damage Photo courtesy Oklahoma DOT.

ODOT also said county commissioners could advance some existing construction projects in a five-year County Improvements for Roads and Bridges that ODOT oversees, which would “free up maintenance funding for counties to perform immediate repairs with their own crews.”

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