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Oklahoma bridges strained by heavy school buses

By John Greiner
The Oklahoman

Many schools across Oklahoma are using buses too heavy for safe travel across some of Oklahoma's bridges, the director of the state Transportation Department said this week.

Oklahoma's children aren't in immediate danger, but if drivers ignore posted weight limits, the stability of the bridges will be threatened, said Gary Ridley, director of the state Transportation Department at a meeting of the Transportation Commission.

"It's not the one-time load; it's the repetitive nature that will accelerate the deterioration. It is extremely important to us that school officials are fully aware of the situation so they can take safety measures," Ridley said.

The weight limit on 33 of the more than 155 bridges on the state highway system is 15 tons or less, he said.

Some schools have buses much heavier than that, according to a state survey in which about 50 percent of Oklahoma districts responded.

The survey showed that 329 buses of the 1,263 reported in the survey weigh 15 tons (30,000 pounds) or more.

It also showed that larger buses are becoming more common, Ridley said.

The survey only included the heaviest vehicles in a school district, not every bus, the Transportation Department said.

The department will begin notifying the Education Department and the Oklahoma Trucking Association by e-mail of weight limits on bridges on the state highway system and any changes in weight limits.

The two groups will then notify school districts and trucking companies, respectively, Ridley said.

The Transportation Department also is proposing changing the rules on how federal dollars can be used by counties to replace bridges on school bus routes, Ridley said.

County governments must now give priority to using federal dollars on bridges rated 10 tons or less on school bus routes, Ridley said.

The department is proposing a change to allow the federal dollars to be used for bridges rated 15 tons or less. About $34 million, most of it federal money, is available each year.

Ridley said three new signs showing the bridge weight limits will be posted in each direction along routes to bridges on the state highway system.

The first sign will be posted at the last intersection before a bridge.

The second will be posted at the last place where a bus, truck or other vehicle could turn around, he said.

The third sign will be posted at the bridge, Ridley said.