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ODOT construction projects could be put on hold, mothballed if funding cut

OKLAHOMA CITY – For drivers that lament the condition of the state’s roadways, or seemingly never-ending construction projects, it’s possible they may have to lament a little longer if current and future construction projects are suspended by the state’s transportation department.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials say future and currently underway road construction projects could be suspended if the legislature makes additional cuts to the agency’s funding as it looks to fill the state’s $870 million budget hole.

On Monday, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation announced it is stopping the awarding highway construction contracts for May, suspending work on 12 scheduled projects and is preparing a list of more than 80 construction projects currently under construction that could be suspended.

“We’re stuck on some of those invoices, not having the funds to pay, so we didn’t want to get any deeper in this hole,” said Terri Angier, ODOT spokeswoman, Tuesday afternoon.

Angier says SB 837 could force the agency’s hand, as it would cut the department’s road construction budget from $570 million to $320 million. If a gas tax increase isn’t approved with HB 2365 – legislation Angier says would soften the blow – the agency will have no other choice but to follow through with the mothballing of currently underway projects. Both bills are currently moving through the state legislature.

"The contracting industry is very concerned, as they should be,” Angier said. “We are too. We just don`t know what we can do to honor some of these agreements, if we make new ones.”

“If you mothball a project like (the I-235 Broadway Extension), you`re talking about pulling everybody off this job,” said Bobby Stem, executive director of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors. “To mobilize this project was $5 million; with all of the equipment, people and materials.”

Stem says his ire isn’t being directed towards ODOT headquarters, but towards the domed building across the street.

“I’m not sure how they’re managing the money at the capitol,” Stem said, “but I do know something needs to be done about it.”