Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure continues to expand.

From renovated and expanded airport terminals and concourses to improved highways and bridges, investment is flowing into Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure in an effort to make living, working and visiting the Sooner State an enjoyable experience no matter how you get around.

The experience of flying into and out of Oklahoma is continually improving.

Three new airlines have been added to Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport in the past two years — Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air and U.S. Airways, which will become American Airlines. Also, new nonstop destinations have been added to Charlotte, N.C.; Seattle, Wash.; Orlando, Fla.; and Las Vegas, Nev., bringing the total number of nonstop destinations to 22.

The airport has seen more than $264 million invested in infrastructure and passenger facilities improvements since 2001, and another $92 million is planned for 2015. A terminal expansion is adding three new gates with an additional six to be added if necessary, as well as centralizing the security checkpoint, which officials believe will improve the security screening process, according to Karen Carney, spokeswoman for the airport.

Several projects at Will Rogers World Airport were expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2015, including a $16-million checked baggage inspection system and a $5-million terminal generator that will provide backup electricity for the entire terminal building, and allow airlines and concessions to continue to operate should a power outage occur.

Not to be outdone, Tulsa International Airport has also seen several improvement projects and expansions. Since 2001, more than $80 million has been invested in facility improvements at the airport, which serves as the air transportation gateway for visitors throughout northeast Oklahoma and sees 2.8 million passengers each year.

In 2001, the airport began to modernize its facility along with expanding security. The airport centralized the security checkpoint and added a concession row connecting the two concourses, says Alexis Higgins, deputy airports director.

“As a result of the expansion, once through the security checkpoint, passengers were greeted with floor-to-ceiling glass spanning concourse to concourse with a walkway that offered eight new shops and restaurants,” she says.

In 2010, the airport started renovating the concourses. Concourse B was completed in 2012 while Concourse A was finished in 2015. Both concourses now have business centers, and a military lounge has been expanded near the entrance of Concourse A. Officials are now turning their attention to expanding the airport’s parking garage. Huggins said the $26-million project will add a third deck to the garage, allowing the rental car companies to relocate, and offering an additional 480 covered public parking spaces. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2016, she says.

Union Pacific Railroad has more than 1,100 miles of track in Oklahoma and nearly 400 employees. In 2015, Union Pacific planned to invest $27 million in projects to help maintain and improve the railroad infrastructure throughout the state. This is part of more than $236 million that Union Pacific has invested in Oklahoma since 2010, according to Jeffrey DeGraff, spokesman for Union Pacific.

“These projects range from the replacement of railroad ties and tracks to improvement of crossings to the maintenance of our bridges across the state,” DeGraff says. “Continuing to aggressively invest in our network is an important element in Union Pacific’s unwavering safety commitment.”

Though Oklahoma’s population is smaller, it ranks 17th in the nation for the number of center-line highway miles, just behind states like California and New York, says Cody Boyd, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. The agency maintains 6,800 highway bridges and 12,265 center-line miles.

Due to decades of underfunding, Oklahoma had some of the worst highways and bridges in the nation. By 2004, 1,168 of the state’s 6,800 highway bridges were deemed structurally deficient. “Bridges that had been built for the traffic of the early 1900s were still in service for decades past their original design life, and were in need of major rehabilitation or replacement,” Boyd says.

But in 2005, state lawmakers passed a law providing a state allocation of tax revenue to ODOT known as the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety, or ROADS. Combined with fluctuating fuel tax revenues, state support for highways and bridges is expected to reach about $775 million annually by 2018. ODOT was able to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges to 372 at the end of 2014, Boyd says.

ODOT’s current eight-year construction work plan includes more than 1,800 projects totaling more than $6.5 billion in improvements.

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