Contractors’ leader urges legislators not to ignore bridge problems

As the head of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors, Bobby Stem says the recent record rains and flooding that washed out a bridge in the city of Norman should be a warning…the state cannot let up on its continued improvement of roads and bridges.

Record rainfall totalling at least 5 inches in south Oklahoma City resulted in flooding that destroyed the bridge on West Main street in Norman.  Add the tragic collapse of a bridge that killed 43 people in Genoa, Italy, and the combination got Stem’s attention.

In Italy, it was a lack of maintenance and the ignoring of warnings from  experts.

“You know, we did that in Oklahoma for years,” he told OK Energy Today, “until Gary Ridley came up with the 8-year plan and really bergan traveling the state and kind of spread the gospel.”

Ridley is the retired Director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

“That guy is a ‘Billy Graham” of roads and bridges in the state. I will tell you that I think that Gary Ridley is probably responsible for saving more lives in the last decade than maybe anybody else in state government,” professed Stem. “Who knows what may have happened. We went from hundreds of bad bridges and now we have less than 300. I think the guy’s done really yeoman’s work.”

But he believes the washed out bridge in Norman is also warning to state leaders and legislators not to let up on proper funding of the State Transportation Department so it can continue making improvements in roads and bridges.

“The challenge is for the legislature and O-DOT not to let up. The legislature has done a great job during hard times and n some ways learned to do more with less,” added Stem. “Once we find ourselves in a manageable place with bridge repair, we still need the legislature to continue to fund the road fund to meet statutory level so we can go and fix bridges.”

But he also thinks the bridge in Norman was perhaps not the result of a lack of maintenance.

“First of all, we had those record rains,” he said. “Anytime weather throws something at us that we’re truly not expecting, it’s had to really blame lack of a plan on that. But I think that was an oddity. We had a tremendous amount of rain come through there, washing stuff out.”