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State Transportation Dept. Prepares to Suspend Construction

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation could suspend construction due to a state budget shortfall.

Uncertainties about the state budget have led Oklahoma transportation officials to change highway construction plans.

The Oklahoma Transportation Commission announced at its monthly meeting on Monday that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation may suspend work on more than 80 bridges and roads across the state.

The commission also deferred the awarding of highway construction contracts for May, and the department instructed contractors not to begin work on 12 previously awarded contracts.

These decisions are “unprecedented” and are motivated by uncertainty over department funding, according to a statement from ODOT.

A joint committee in the state legislature passed a measure last week that could reduce transportation funding from $571 million to $370 million.  A proposed bill could replace that funding with revenues from an increased tax on motor oil, but it’s uncertain whether that bill will be passed.

The budget cuts could leave ODOT unable to pay for its projects.

“We are concerned about not being able to meet our obligations,” said Lisa Shearer-Salim, a spokeswoman for ODOT, in a phone interview.

Before deciding which projects to suspend, the department is waiting to see which legislation will affect revenues in the coming year, said Shearer-Salim.  In the meantime, department engineers are preparing a plans to safely suspend construction on more than 80 projects.

“ODOT is taking these steps as a fiscally responsible precaution and hopes that the budget crisis will be resolved in a way that provides adequate state funding for ongoing construction,” said the ODOT statement.

The state budget is currently facing a $878 million shortfall.

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