Oklahoma Bridge Closed for Emergency Repairs

By TIM TALLEY | March 12, 2014

Oklahoma transportation officials said Monday that repair work on a closed bridge that connects Purcell and Lexington will take longer than expected and the bridge will remain closed indefinitely.

Officials closed the US 77-State Highway 39 bridge over the Canadian River on Jan. 31 after cracks were discovered in structural beams. They had hoped to reopen the bridge to light traffic within 45 days after emergency repairs were authorized on Feb. 14.

But officials told members of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission that more cracks had been discovered since the repair work was launched, forcing officials to postpone the bridge’s reopening to as late as June.

“It’s disappointing that we have to bring this news to you,” said Mike Patterson, executive director of the Department of Transportation. Patterson said the bridge’s closure had created frustration for commuters who must take a 45-minute detour to travel between two communities that are less than one mile apart. The bridge was built in 1938 and carried nearly 9,000 vehicles a day.

“Our hopes were to get it open,” said Casey Shell, chief engineer for the agency. “Unfortunately, that’s not achievable for us. We’re not comfortable opening this bridge.”

There were 10 cracked areas in the bridge’s lower beams when the emergency repairs were authorized, but since then the number of cracked areas has increased to 41 and will most likely continue to increase, officials said. Frigid temperatures that have accompanied winter storms in recent weeks may have contributed to the additional cracking.

“The cracking is continuing,” Shell said. “We have not seen a pattern of the cracks slowing down or stopping and we cannot, in good conscience, let even light vehicles on the bridge without the fear of more cracks causing a possible collapse.”

The cracks formed following a repair project that involved welding on members of the bridge that were made of manganese steel alloy. Officials said they did not know the bridge contained the exotic alloy when the repair project was designed.

The welds caused the manganese to become brittle and cracks formed when crews tightened tension rods. The latest repairs involve the attachment of large metal brackets and connecting rods to strengthen bridge beams where cracking occurred.

Because of the additional cracking, Patterson said the bridge will not reopen until all 264 bracket assemblies are installed.

A $10.8 million contract awarded to Manhattan Road & Bridge Co. of Muskogee included the potential for millions in financial incentives for early completion. The contractor can earn up to $2,500 per hour for completing the original project requirements in less than 45 days even though the bridge will not reopen.

“We’re going to honor that commitment,” he said.

Additional incentives could result in the bridge reopening before June, officials said. The contractor will receive incentives of $1,500 for every hour work is completed ahead of the project’s 120-day completion deadline.

“They are optimistic they are going to meet the 120 days,” Shell said.

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