US House committee chair tours Okla. road projects

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee praised the progress being made on Oklahoma highway projects funded by $465 million in federal stimulus money.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., on Monday joined members of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., and others for a tour of the Interstate 244 Inner Dispersal Loop in Tulsa and of the roadway reconstruction project along Interstate 40 between El Reno and Oklahoma City. Fallin is a member of Oberstar’s committee.

Oberstar also got a look at Oklahoma’s most expensive highway project, the $600 million I-40 Crosstown Expressway, which doesn’t receive stimulus funding but has gotten considerable federal backing.

“Oklahoma is No. 7 in the nation in allocating its funds, projects under contract and projects under way and jobs in the field, as we saw in Tulsa and we’re seeing here in Oklahoma City,” Oberstar said while standing on a completed section of the I-40 project as vehicles whizzed by.

“That is an extraordinary accomplishment, and it’s been my pleasure and privilege to see what is going on in Tulsa, which is arguably the most complex stimulus project in the whole country,” he said.

About $75 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding is going to repave the west and north legs of the loop in Tulsa and to replace the decks of more than 40 bridges. The Transportation Department estimates more than 62,000 vehicles travel daily on the loop, which includes parts of I-244, I-44, U.S. Highways 64 and 75 and Oklahoma Highway 51.

“It’s a substantial intersection of road that draws traffic into downtown and brings people from the downtown out,” Oberstar said. “It’s essential for the future vitality of Tulsa to reduce the congestion and improve productivity.”

Another $30 million in stimulus money is going toward the reconstruction of the roadway and several bridges on I-40 in El Reno.

A 2007 study by The Road Information Program (TRIP) in Washington, D.C., found Oklahoma roads have high rates of pavement deterioration and 27 percent of bridges in the state are rated as structurally deficient.

“What strikes me about Oklahoma is the rate of deterioration and the need for reconstruction,” Oberstar said.

During a tour in Oklahoma City, Oberstar saw fractures in structural beams and crumbling pavement underneath the I-40 Crosstown, which is being rerouted several miles to the south and brought down to ground level.

“When this Crosstown was originally built, it was designed to carry 75,000 cars a day. Now it carries about 123,000 vehicles a day,” Fallin said. “I wanted him to see how important and strategic the I-40 Crosstown not only is for Oklahoma, but for the nation.”

Oberstar said he was asked earlier why he came to Oklahoma, given that Fallin is a Republican and he is a Democrat.

“I’ve never seen a Democratic road or a Republican bridge,” he said. “If we work together, we can build all-American roads and all-American bridges.”