LEXINGTON — Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday declared a State of Emergency for Cleveland and McClain counties and promised the full force of state government in quickly repairing and eventually rebuilding the James C. Nance bridge which carries 9,000 motorists a day over the Canadian River.
Officials hope to begin emergency repairs by the evening of Feb. 14 on the 76-year-old Highway 77 and Highway 39 span linking Lexington and Purcell. Engineers anticipate reopening it first to passenger cars in a matter of weeks and all vehicles within four months. In the meantime, no vehicles or even pedestrians will be allowed on the 3,800 foot span.
Long-term, officials hinted at planning for a new bridge, a project that could take up to 10 years and $40 million. The bridge is one of about 500 on the state’s list of structurally deficient bridges and officials have been monitoring it due to age and known weaknesses. The bridge’s load limit was lowered on Jan. 20 before it was shut down completely on Jan. 31.
Before her press briefing, Gov. Fallin stopped at the east end of the snow-covered bridge to assess the situation with Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers, state Adjutant General Myles Deering, District 3 Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan, emergency managers and a handful of state legislators.
“It is critical that we get a bridge back open as soon as possible,” Gov. Fallin told reporters and local officials inside the Lexington Fire Station. “We understand the closing of the bridge has created a hardship in these two communities.”
Officials said they explored all possibilities, including a low-water crossing, ferry, and “Duck” transport vehicles. The governor even joked about a zipline.
“We clearly explored every idea we could think of,” she said.
Fallin said she understands the strain on individual, business and community resources brought on by the closing but the bridge was at risk of collapsing and public safety is paramount.