By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Bridges in Oklahoma are notoriously bad due to years of underfunding, but in Cleveland County, road crews have transitioned into maintenance mode from earlier years of crisis mode.
Most of Cleveland County’s bridges fall into District 3 under the care of County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan.
“We’re required to have bridges inspected every two years,” Sullivan said. “For the last seven years, I have worked on bridges every summer. Now our bridges are on a maintenance schedule.”
The Cleveland County bridge inventory was recently updated with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Some small creeks can be handled with a tinhorn — a metal culvert — but for a time, ODOT lists showed those as closed bridges. Recently, those lists have been updated to more accurately reflect the state of the county’s bridges, Sullivan said.
Oklahoma counties have bridges routinely inspected by engineers to see which ones are in need of repair, maintenance or replacement. Based on a system of prioritization, bridges are put on the five-year bridge plan by county commissioners working with the Circuit Engineering Districts.
Bridges can be costly, and funding is available through the state’s County Improvements for Roads and Bridges program funded by the motor vehicle tax.
A five-year CIRB plan is developed through coordination with county commissioners, the CED and ODOT. Those projects consist of the highest-priority, most critical projects.
“We had three bridges that were on the five-year plan, and I know District 2 had one, and those were all completed within the last year,” Sullivan said.
However, the five-year plan can’t account for all emergencies. Extreme Oklahoma weather can take out bridges that were safe and functional during the inspections.
“Right after I came into office, there was a major snowstorm and two flooding events, which washed out a bridge,” Sullivan said. “The headwalls broke and the bridge settled, making it unsafe and unpassable.”
That bridge had not previously been on the five-year plan and was not eligible for immediate funding. FEMA rejected a request for assistance, and Sullivan turned to an inter-local agreement with the Absentee Shawnee tribe. The tribe channeled American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to help with the project.
“We approached the Absentee Shawnee tribe, and they paid the lion’s share for replacing the bridge,” Sullivan said. “That’s an example of how we work with different groups and agencies in the state and federal government to get funding.”
More recent replacements done within this past year qualified for CIRB money because those bridges were on the five-year plan.