The Bridge Investment Program has already made significant strides in the past fiscal year, with $2.4 billion being invested in 2022. This program is a crucial component of the government's efforts to revamp the nation's bridges and represents the largest dedicated investment in bridge infrastructure since the construction of the Interstate Highway System.
One of the projects set to benefit from this funding will replace seven rural bridges in Northwest Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Cooperative Circuit Engineering District 8 will receive $11.5 million from the Bridge Investment Program for this project. The bridges, located in Garfield, Grant, Kingfisher, Major, Noble, and Woods Counties, play a vital role in connecting agricultural areas with local towns and larger roadway facilities. Currently, they support over 2,800 vehicles per day, including more than 430 trucks.
Dating back to as early as 1915 and as recent as 1981, the bridges are all in fair or poor condition, have deficient horizontal clearances, and are load-posted. The $14.3 million project will address these deficiencies by replacing the seven bridges, creating safe crossings that meet regional traffic requirements in terms of safety and weight.
Load postings on the bridges restrict oversize agricultural and oilfield vehicles, which are crucial for the region's economy. The movement of energy sector and agricultural equipment, such as oil rig materials, combines, and large wind turbine towers, heavily relies on these narrow roadways and bridges. The load restrictions also force commercial trucks, emergency vehicles, and school buses to take alternative routes.
“[The bridges are] rural in nature and are on some heavily traveled roads,” said Tyler Schroder, Project Engineer for the Oklahoma Cooperative Circuit Engineering District 8. “They carry a lot of farm traffic, a lot of oil and gas traffic, and a lot of wind turbine traffic. And there's a pretty significant detour on some of these. These bridges are getting old and closer to being closed. So it's a larger inconvenience when we have to drive 20 miles around to get to the next river crossing.”
Failure to undertake major rehabilitation or replacement work would likely result in the closure of the bridges within the next 15 years. Such a scenario would have significant negative impacts to transportation network efficiency, accessibility and mobility of people and goods, and economic growth.
Once complete, this replacement project will lead to improved travel times for commercial trucks and school buses and will reduce operating costs for travelers who will no longer have to rely on detours. The bridges' reliability and capacity will also be enhanced, serving the needs of the region's farmers, ranchers, and energy workers.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is investing in this bridge replacement project because it will improve connectivity in rural Oklahoma, providing residents with a more reliable way to access services, entertainment, and — most importantly — each other,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt. “Over the next five years, the Bridge Investment Program will work to repair, replace, and rehabilitate structures that allow businesses to move their goods to market while helping people get to jobs, schools, doctors, and other vital destinations. This project is an investment in both the United States’ economic growth and in the safety and long-term resilience of the communities that make this country great.”