By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Since learning the State Highway 77/39 bridge over the Canadian River between Lexington and Purcell will be closed through at least June — instead of March — for repairs, many area residents are taking the burden day by day.
Patsy Shelley, co-owner of Pearson’s Lumber Yard in Lexington, said the continued bridge closure is threatening the success of local businesses. The once short distance between the two towns is now a 45-minute drive, discouraging residents from doing business in the neighboring community.
“We got the word it was going to be extended, and everybody’s just walking around in a fog,” Shelley said. “We’re all going, ‘What in the world is going to happen to with this deal?’ It’s very overwhelming. You just don’t expect anything like this to happen. We’re just going through the motions.”
Shelley said before the bridge closed, her business received multiple repeat customers daily from the Purcell area. Now, with the 45-minute detour to get from one community to the next, she said she has seen a significant decline of customers.
For now, she said the business is driving select orders to Purcell for customers.
“At this point, any little item we can sell is better than zero,” she said. “But the longer this goes on, how much longer does anyone want to mess with this? That’s the fear.”
Things aren’t looking any better for larger businesses like Purcell Municipal Hospital.
Jennifer Warren, hospital chief financial officer, said 25 percent of the hospital’s business is from Lexington. Since the bridge closing, visits to the ER from Lexington, Noble, Asher and Wanette are down by 80 percent. Also, from these four areas, inpatient admissions are down by 45 percent and outpatient procedures are down by 30 percent. As a result, she said, the hospital has lost $700,000 to $800,000 gross revenue per month.
“From January to June, that’s a lot of money,” she said.
Warren said the hospital is cutting back everywhere they can to stay on track financially. For the time being, the hospital has set up clinics Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in Lexington.
Even then, with the hospital’s fiscal year ending June 30, Warren said she can’t see the hospital making a recovery before the bridge opens.
Cara King, owner of Cara’s Sweet Cafe in Purcell, said sales are down at her business between 20 and 23 percent.
“When it first started, it was going to be so many days — it’s going to be 45 days,” King said, “We thought, ‘OK, we can survive 45 days.’ But now that they’re saying June or longer than that, I hadn’t had a minute to wrap my mind around how to make that up.”
King said the bridge closure also has affected her employees. One employee, a high school student who was only working a few hours, had to resign because of the long commute, which took an hour and a half.
Even with the shuttle provided by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, many are still frustrated with the long commute.
Lexington resident Joyce Tapparo works at the Braum’s in Purcell.
Though she is grateful to not have to drive herself each day, she said she doesn’t enjoy the inconvenience of the commute.
Tapparo said she wishes the state would rebuild the bridge instead of doing repairs.
The shuttle averages 61 riders per day, according to a press release from ODOT. From when the shuttle trips began Feb. 7 to March 13, the shuttles had 2,085 riders between the two communities.
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