OKLAHOMA CITY — Recent rains already are costing taxpayers $2 million — and counting, transportation officials said earlier this week.
Oklahoma Department of Transportation Executive Director Tim Gatz said the total extent of the damage is unknown until the floodwaters, which submerged roadways and neighborhoods statewide, finally begin to recede. Then crews can finally get out and assess the destruction.
“The event that we had in northeastern and eastern Oklahoma is significant,” he said. “It was a historic flood event unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I think unlike anything most of us have ever seen before.”
Storms turned rivers into lakes and left roadways and neighborhoods submerged. And, more rain is expected in coming days, he said.
“We’re going to be putting eyes on everything, all of our infrastructure and assets out there that have been impacted by flooding,” he said.
Already crews have seen damage to roadway shoulders, particularly near Muskogee. They also need to examine bridge columns and piers for damage from debris and erosion, he said.
It could take up to two years to clear waterways of all the drift, he said.
“Any type of log or branch or anything else that was laying in a field that might have been half a mile away from a river is probably in the river now and subsequently that drift will end up on our bridge structures,” Gatz said.
Recent weather events forced the closure of 150 highways statewide, including 65 at one time. Highways still remained closed Monday, Gatz told his agency’s oversight board.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who attended the meeting, said the recent floods have caused “a rough time” for a lot of the state, particularly in eastern Oklahoma.
He said transportation employees have been stationed at bridges across Oklahoma to ensure public safety.
And when Braggs residents found themselves cut off by floodwaters, Oklahoma’s transportation crews built “an impossible” 7-mile long road so services and power could be restored to the town located east of Muskogee, Stitt said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.