NORMAN — For Purcell and Lexington residents, the James C. Nance bridge is truly a lifeline, helping people get to and from work, school, the hospital and grocery stores. Now that it’s closed, many worries and concerns have been raised.
Lexington Police Chief Deanna Allen said she is concerned for many of the elderly people who travel across the bridge to get groceries and go to the doctor.
“They use the Delta Transit bus out of Purcell because they don’t have anyone else to take them,” Allen said. “How are they going to get to the places they need to get? It’s a bad situation.”
The bridge, which stretches over the Canadian River, was closed Friday by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation after an inspection revealed cracks in the truss system.
ODOT spokesperson Larry Clore said they are working as quickly as possible to get a repair plan in place.
“The bridge has potential to collapse. We didn’t want anybody driving on it,” Clore said.
As the cracks in the bridge continue to worsen, Clore said they will try to keep those from growing larger. ODOT is hoping to have a contract awarded by March to repair the bridge, he said.
“We understand it’s a great hindrance to the people in Purcell and Lexington to have this closed, but we’re working as fast as we can. We’re gonna try to get it fixed as quickly as possible,” Clore said.
For now, a detour has been set up. Those on the Lexington side of the bridge are advised to go north on Highway 77 to State Highway 9 and then west on Highway 9 to Interstate 35 to go south to Purcell.
The detour brings problems of its own to residents and business owners in the area, though.
The police chief said several officers who live in Purcell begin their day as soon as they get into their vehicle.
“Paying them to drive an hour each way — for obvious budget reasons, that’s a concern,” Allen said. “Someone actually set up a camper behind the police department that they plan on sharing until the situation is resolved.”
Another problem both police departments will have to deal with is mutual aid. Allen said the two departments have a mutual aid agreement with each other.
“Purcell has always been our primary source of backup,” she said. “A lot of times, we only have one officer (on duty).”
She spoke to the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, and they advised supervisors and deputies working in the southern portion of the county of the situation in case the department needs assistance.
Charlie McCown, Lexington city manager, said many employees are affected by the closed bridge. Instead of driving three or four miles a day to get to work, many are having to drive closer to 80 miles a day, he said.
“My heart aches for all those people that have to live over there and/or have to live here and have to deal with travel and additional expenses on an already tight budget,” McCown said. “It’s just going to be real challenging for them.”
Lexington Schools Superintendent Denny Prince said the closure is challenging to them, as well. They have approximately 39 transfer students from other districts and 37 employees who use the bridge to get to the school.
Mid-American Technology Center also picks up students and takes them to Career Tech classes. Prince said the career tech students will have to adjust their times to make the classes.
The closure also puts a hindrance on extracurricular activities, not only for Lexington students traveling to other schools but for other schools coming to Lexington, he said. The detour will mean extra time and fuel for the districts.
Prince said he and the Purcell superintendent have talked about looking into the logistics of making some type of shuttle to help people out until the bridge is repaired.
“We understand that safety is the first issue, but it is quite an adjustment dealing with it,” Prince said.
Businesses in the area are concerned, as well.
Bob Massengale, owner of Massengale Furniture and Appliance and Oklahoma Recumbent Bikes and Trikes, said they have a lot of traffic from Purcell and vice versa, so they’re just going to have to watch what they’re doing.
“We’ll help out our customers where and how we can,” Massengale said. “People can call me so I can show them the best direction to come.”
The bridge closure was expected to be discussed at Lexington’s City Council meeting Tuesday night. A representative from ODOT was expected to attend.
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