- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Legislature’s decision to divert about $150 million in Oklahoma Department of Transportation funding to help close a hole in next year’s budget is expected to lead to delays in starting some projects in its eight-year construction plan , the agency’s director said Monday.

But Director Mike Patterson told members of the Transportation Commission that ongoing construction projects will not have to be suspended, as was initially feared when lawmakers were discussing the possibility last month of decreasing funding by more than $250 million.

“That impact would have stopped or suspended construction activity on several ongoing projects,” Patterson said. “Fortunately, we don’t find ourselves in that position.”

The eight-year plan, which is updated annually, includes road and bridge projects from each of Oklahoma’s eight transportation districts that are selected by ODOT field engineers and approved by members of the commission.

Facing a shortfall of $878 million in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, lawmakers tapped $100 million from the agency’s construction program funds and another $53 million from a maintenance and operations fund. They also raided $3 million from a weigh station revolving account.

Separately, lawmakers took $50 million from a county road and bridge improvement fund administered by the agency.

The Legislature also considered taking $1 million each from the Heartland Flyer passenger rail program and a public transit fund, but Patterson said he convinced lawmakers to spare those two programs.

Ultimately, Patterson said the funding shortfall will lead to some of the projects in the eight-year plan being delayed until 2025.

He said the agency’s focus will remain on reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state, which already has been reduced from 1,168 about a decade ago to 251 at last count.

Patterson also provided an update on the reconstruction of the Interstate 235-Insterstate 44 junction in Oklahoma City, a major project designed to ease one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the state. Patterson said all four lanes of I-235 are scheduled to remain closed until Wednesday.

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