Shutdown already costs $133 million in state road projects

A pile of rubble sits on the ground as crews tear down the east side of the North Van Buren overpass in this November file photo. The federal government shutdown has forced delays in some state highway projects, although the work in Enid has not been affected. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The federal government shutdown already has cost Oklahoma nearly $133 million in roadway projects, the state’s director of transportation said.

As the shutdown entered its third week, it has forced the state to delay 36 projects, said Mike Patterson, executive director of Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

Two of those projects include plans to fix the interchange at Interstate 35 and Ladd Road as well as modernizing Oklahoma 37 in Grady County between Tuttle and Minco, Patterson said.

The federal government typically pays about 80 or 90 percent of most road projects, he said. To date, the shutdown has resulted in about $100 million in delayed federal funding, Patterson said.

“When you look at delaying future projects, some of these have real safety issues that we’re trying to fix,” he said. “They have mobility issues that we’re trying to fix, and we’re just delaying that. In doing so, you often encounter more expensive maintenance on these things that we’re trying to replace.”

Many federal government agencies remained partially closed for a 17th day Monday as Congress and Republican President Donald Trump continued to face a stalemate over funding a $5 billion border wall. Nearly 380,000 federal employees working for agencies like NASA, the IRS, National Park Service and the Transportation Department, remained furloughed.

Another 420,000 essential federal employees — including federal agents and State Department, Coast Guard, Homeland Security and IRS personnel — were working without pay.

Patterson said ongoing projects won’t be affected by the shutdown — as long as the Federal Highway Administration remains open.

But even when the federal government reopens, many of the state’s planned bridge projects still could face extended delays.

Bridge projects, for instance, have to be started before the arrival of barn and cliff swallows, which are both protected birds, he said. Transportation planners work to time projects around different mating and nesting seasons.

Patterson said the state is good at timing those projects, but those efforts hinge on being able to fund them at the right time.

John Cox, a spokesman for transportation infrastructure advocacy group TRUST — or Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation — said he hoped Trump and Congress will reach a resolution soon.

Delaying projects, even if its only for a month or two, is a concern, he said.

“We’re just kind of waiting it out like everybody is at this point,” he said. “Hopefully, they will get it resolved sooner than later, and we can all go down the road, so to speak.”

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