Oklahoma inches closer to the number one spot on a Federal Highway Association's list. Right now, Oklahoma's highway bridges are in better condition than 43 other states.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said being ranked seventh in the nation is even more of an accomplishment when looking at how much Oklahoma bridges have improved in the last two decades.
"In 2004, we were ranked, according to the FHWA's numbers, 49th out of 50 states," said Justin Hernandez, a bridge engineer with ODOT.
ODOT is responsible for 6,800 bridges on highway systems statewide. As of 2021, 67 or less than 1% of those are considered structurally deficient. A huge improvement from 2004, where inspectors considered 17% of, or 1,168, bridges deficient.
"[It's] not an immediate danger, but something that, if left unchecked, could further degrade the state of the bridge," Hernandez said. "There was not a whole lot we could do about it. We worked with what we had. Funding was fairly flat."
Bridges are inspected by ODOT at least every two years. The Federal Highway Association keeps track of the data and ranks states each year. The FHWA's list is not published.
Hernandez said Oklahoma began to fix the highway bridges in 2005 after the state ranked 49th the previous year. The Webbers Falls Bridge collapse also pointed ODOT's attention to the state's bridges.
The Webbers Falls collapse wasn't due to a deteriorated bridge, but a barge crashed into it, and put it out of commission.
"We had to detour all that I-40 traffic onto the rural highway system and that really highlighted some of the structural issues we had with our bridges," said Hernandez.
Since then, the state has invested around $7.5 billion into improvements on the transportation department's bridges.
"The people that are out there driving these bridges, they have to deal with this construction all the time all over the state," said Hernandez. "This is something we can show that says hey, this is why we've been so aggressive with construction."
ODOT's next focus will be on bridge maintenance, especially the structures getting close to the 80-year mark. There are about 1,000 around that age across the state. The ODOT is not responsible for city or town road or bridge maintenance.