Tahlequah Daily Press

Z_CNHI News Service

March 22, 2014

Repairs for Purcell bridge ahead of schedule

Norman — Repairs for the US-77/State Highway 39 bridge connecting Lexington and Purcell are ahead of schedule, ODOT officials said Thursday.

Rep. Bobby Cleveland toured the bridge Thursday with several Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Slaughterville officials.

ODOT Chief Engineer Casey Shell walked everyone through the chain of events leading to the closure of the bridge, which is scheduled to open June 14. The contractors working on the bridge will receive incentives if the bridge is completed before that date or penalties for every day after June 14.

In January, ODOT contracted a company to make repairs involving welding brackets on the bridge. Shell said neither the contracted company nor ODOT knew the base of the bridge was made with a manganese alloy.

It is the only bridge in the state built with manganese alloy, and experts classified the manganese as an “exotic metal” that is not common in bridges, Shell said.

The welds caused the manganese to become brittle and cracks formed, which they thought at the time was due to the tightening of tension rods, Shell said. After further inspection, it was discovered it wasn’t the tension but delayed hydrogen cracks that would’ve cracked eventually.

During an annual inspection of the bridge shortly after the welding project was finished, Shell said the cracks, which were isolated around the welded brackets, were found and a weight limit of five tons was set for the bridge, allowing only passenger vehicles to cross.

The next day, crews went out to measure and get dimensions, at which time the weight limit was changed to 16 tons to let emergency vehicles and school buses cross the bridge. At that time, more cracks were discovered, so ODOT called in experts to inspect the bridge, Shell said.

“At that point, we were suspicious that something was going on,” he said. “They said, ‘We need to close this bridge immediately.’”

Eventually, 264 locations for cracks were found in the bridge, which will require six fabricated pieces per location. Shell said crews should be able to get to the point where they’ll be able to work on multiple locations every day.

The crews are currently working at least two shifts, which means the bridge is being worked on about 16 hours per day.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get this bridge open as fast as possible,” Shell said.

To do that, they must get the load off the brackets and stop the cracks from migrating any further. The $10.7 million repairs must last at least 10 years, or until a new bridge can be built.

While there have been questions about why ODOT didn’t just scrap the repairs and build a new bridge, Shell said building a new bridge would take at least five years, but it’s obvious the community cannot wait that long for a new bridge to be built.

“The governor made that clear with her state of emergency declaration,” Shell said.

The cost of the new bridge will be approximately $40 million, which is half of the budget for ODOT’s Field Division 3, where the bridge is located. The price does not include the right of way and utilities, which were already scheduled for 2017.

When the bridge is repaired and reopens, the repairs will hold the full weight of the bridge. It will be open to all traffic, including legally loaded trucks weighing in at 90,000 pounds.

Before it’s closure, the bridge carried about 10,000 vehicles a day. Rep. Cleveland said that while the closure hurts local businesses, safety is the top priority.

“There could’ve been a catastrophe,” Cleveland said, adding that he appreciated ODOT’s quick response.

Until the bridge is reopened, a shuttle will continue to run from Lexington to Purcell, which the First Baptist Church in Lexington has played a large part in.

“I’d like to thank First Baptist again for everything they’re doing. Their hospitality has really helped us out,” said Mike Patterson, ODOT executive director.

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