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Delays in new state highway projects caused by federal government shutdown

Highway construction in Oklahoma City is pictured in 2015. The ongoing government shutdown will force about 45 new Oklahoma highway projects to be delayed. [The Oklahoman archives]
Highway construction in Oklahoma City is pictured in 2015. The ongoing government shutdown will force about 45 new Oklahoma highway projects to be delayed. [The Oklahoman archives]

About 45 new Oklahoma highway projects worth $137 million will be delayed because of the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials said Monday.

"It will only exacerbate itself the longer it goes," said Mike Patterson, the agency's executive director.

The partial federal government shutdown was in its 17th day Monday as the impasse continued between President Donald Trump and House Democrats over Trump's demand for $5 billion to build a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Work is expected to continue on Oklahoma highway projects that already are under construction or have already been awarded, Patterson said. Federal Highway Trust Fund money continues to be available and employees of the Federal Highway Administration still are processing payments, he said.

However, the state Transportation Department is having to postpone taking bids on 26 projects worth about $101.7 million that were scheduled to take place in January, and it is expecting to push back 19 projects in February that are valued about $35.6 million, officials said.

Federal funds typically provide 80 to 90 percent of the funding for state highway projects, so disruptions in federal funding have a quick impact, Patterson said.

Even if the partial federal shutdown is resolved quickly, some of the projects may be delayed for many months, the director said.

There are environmental factors that need to be taken into consideration, he said.

For example, contractors can't begin work on bridges after nesting season for cliff swallows begins because they are a protected species, Patterson said.

So if work on bridge projects hasn't begun by March, contractors may have to wait until after September to begin work, transportation officials said.

There are also only certain months when asphalt resurfacing works well, so the department must schedule its projects with that in mind, Patterson said.

Patterson cited the $9.3 million Ladd Road bridge project over Interstate 35 in McClain County and improvements to State Highway 37 west of Tuttle as important projects that are being delayed because of the partial federal government shutdown.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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