ODOT receives $41.5 million loan to speed rural highway construction


Highway work such as this last year on State Highway 19 in Ada will be accelerated as a result of new funding obtained by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Photo courtesy Ada News

WASHINGTON – Narrow state highways in eight Oklahoma counties are to be repaved and widened under a $41.5 million loan of federal funds to the state highway department.

The low interest loan to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will fund nearly half of the $85.97 million needed to make nearly 35 miles of highways safer in Bryan, Caddo, Ellis, Harper, Kingfisher, McClain, Pontotoc and Pittsburg counties.

“The loan will help ODOT build more projects now and then pay them off during the next 20 years at a very favorable interest rate,” said Cody Boyd, a spokesman for the  Oklahoma Department of Transportation. “With construction costs expected to continue to rapidly increase, this initiative will help deliver the safety benefits of added paved shoulders on rural two-lane highways quicker and at a lower cost to taxpayers.“ 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rural Projects Initiative provides 49% of the funding for eligible projects as opposed to the 33 percent the federal government typically provides. 

Boyd said the additional money provided by the federal loan “frees up ODOT funding to be used on other two-lane highways.”  

The U.S. transportation department intends for its funds to pay for adding 8-foot shoulders and asphalt to nearly 27 miles of highway in addition to 6.7 miles of roadway construction.

Oklahoma Public Safety’s most recent “Highway Safety Crash Facts Book” shows that in 2020 rural crashes in Oklahoma accounted for roughly 25% of total crashes statewide. Despite representing a minority of the statewide crashes, rural crashes accounted for 60% of statewide crashes that ended in fatalities.

“Oklahoma has 5,300 miles of two-lane highways with deficient shoulders, which is a significant safety concern for drivers,” said Boyd. “ODOT’s Eight-Year Construction Work Plan includes improvements to 1,013 miles of two-lane highways.”

Oklahoma was one of the first states to take advantage of the federal Rural Project Initiative that is designed to accelerate rural, two-lane improvement projects already in the state’s Eight-Year construction plan.

The focus of the Rural Project Initiative is to develop transportation infrastructure in rural communities by making loans more accessible to small communities.

“The Bureau’s RPI provides flexibility to deliver much-needed improvements sooner with very favorable financing terms,” said Bureau Executive Director Morteza Farajian in a statement. “This is our fifth RPI loan closed at half the Treasury rate, which saves project sponsors money and avoids escalating costs that make the projects more and more unattainable.”   The current treasury rate is 2.88 percent.

The Federal Highway Administration released findings stating nationwide roughly 40 percent of county roads are inadequate for current travel and 38,000 rural bridges longer than 20 feet are structurally deficient.

Oklahoma’s investment in infrastructure has been a focus for over a decade. Oklahoma is currently ranked as the No. 7 state for highway bridge conditions. A dramatic shift from the state’s 2004 ranking of No. 49.

ODOT’s investment in the widening of shoulders and resurfacing of asphalt would give drivers space to remedy errors or safely pull over during emergencies.

“Over the last five years, 38 percent of all serious and fatal crashes in Oklahoma have occurred on rural roads with no shoulders,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg in a statement. 

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.