State Roads Benefit From Energy Costs

The roads through Tulsa are paved with good intentions.

Highway and street projects totaling $62.5 million have either been built or are under construction around Tulsa within the past year.

At the same time, Oklahoma made major strides in its road funding this year as legislation passed in the recently concluded session increased state funding by $2 billion over the next decade.

The measure, HB 1176, will result in a more than 100 percent increase in funding — to $477 million from the current $200 million annually, said Tulsa Rep. Mark Liotta, R-77.

“It was the most significant piece of legislation this year,” said Liotta, the bill’s author.

The biggest benefit will be that the “worst of the worst” bridges and roads receive highest priority, Liotta said.

“The two-lane roads without shoulders will get attention across the state. This is not strictly an urban-center package,” he said.

Also, the typical eight-year road plans will be compressed into four years.

The measure funds road construction without raising taxes or taking on more debt, he said.

Today there is an $8 billion backlog in road construction statewide.

The last significant road-building plan was 10 years ago when then Gov. Frank Keating issued $800 million in bonds.

“This pays for that, too,” Liotta said. “The difference between this measure and that package was that plan took on significant debt. This plan annualizes that debt over the next seven years, paying $70 million a year. Then, once the debt is paid off, that $70 million will continually go to roads.”

The funding will be triggered by growth in the state’s economy. As the state realizes 3 percent growth, then funding increases by $150 million.

While the state has suffered several downturns in the economy, the state budget has doubled in the last decade — going from $3.5 billion to $7 billion.

Much of the recent growth has come from higher crude oil and natural gas prices. Average economic growth over the last 20 years is $200 million.

Crews working several projects include:

? Horizon Construction is performing $5.5 million street rehabilitation and sidewalk enhancement from Third Street to Seventh Street along Boston Avenue. The City is working at Sixth Street and Boston Avenue. The construction is planned to finish this fall.

? Along Yale Avenue from 36th Street to I-44, the City is performing a $3.9 million street rehabilitation project. That project is expected to finish in October.

? City crews are also widening the 91st Street and Yale Avenue intersection — a $7.3 million project. That project is expected to last until March.

? Crews are also working on a $1.3 million widening project on Peoria Avenue from 33rd Street to 36th Street.

Highway construction on U.S. 412 near Sand Springs and the I-44 widening at Yale Avenue are ongoing and expected to be completed by this time next year.

Two other projects have recently completed — the widening of U.S. 169 to I-244 and U.S. 75 at 71st Street. Becco Construction handled the east-side project for $16.9 million. Sherwood Construction did some major excavation on U.S. 75 for $15.6 million, said Randle White, Division 8 Engineer for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. The division covers the 11 counties in Green Country.

“The U.S. 75 project was unique,” White said. “They had to lower the highway and there was a lot of rock. The project on U.S. 169 was level, and they just widened the road under existing conditions.”

Higher costs are hitting the road construction sector hard, White said. “The price of fuel, oil, steel, asphalt, it affects hauling costs.”

In fact, state officials are seeing increases over early estimates anywhere from 30 to 120 percent, he said.

Oil, a major component of asphalt, has gone up 40 percent in the past year. That translates to a cost hike of $140 a ton from $210 a year ago to $350 today.

“We are having a hard time getting quotes for different materials,” White said. “It used to be we could get quotes from six months to a year. Today, we are lucky if a quote is good for 30 days.”

Liotta agreed. While ODOT’s budget has remained at $200 million annually for years, prices have climbed.

“The problem is that concrete costs and rebar prices have not stayed the same — they increase,” Liotta said. “The agency has done a great job of accomplishing more with less. They have been forced to figure out how to do things better and cheaper,” he said.

World events are so unpredictable, White said. “You never know what is going to happen. Prices change from the time you go to bed to the time you awake.”

The construction sector continues evolving, however.

For example, global positioning equipment has transformed surveying, he said.

“Before, the surveyor would look through his scope to a rod. Today, they look through the level and using the global positioning equipment, be able to collect the data on the ground,” he said.

Construction crews have GPS equipment that will load data into a unit that adjusts the blade as they grade with the blade.

While the price of asphalt has risen, the road material is being made tougher, White said.

Fibers are added to the concrete mixer to strengthen the paving, which means less cracking. ?

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