By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Drivers hoping the State Highway 77/39 bridge over the Canadian River between Lexington and Purcell will be open at the end of this month will have to wait until at least mid-June because additional cracks have been found, state transportation officials announced Monday.
The additional cracks, discovered by contractors in the emergency repair, have pushed the 45-day window to 120 days, the duration of the original repair contract. Officials had hoped to open the bridge to traffic with restricted load limits by the end of March.
“It’s disappointing that we have to bring this news to you, but it is important that we bring the news to you,” Oklahoma Department of Transportation Executive Director Mike Patterson told the transportation commission Monday.
ODOT engineers received recommendations from expert consultants who are concerned continued cracking on the bridge would pose a serious safety issue if the bridge were reopened early to light vehicles.
The 76-year-old bridge, named for former newspaper publisher and Speaker of the House James C. Nance, was closed to all traffic Jan. 31 after 11 cracks were discovered in 10 areas during a post-repair inspection. A contractor began working on emergency repairs Feb. 14. Since then, 264 cracks have been discovered in about 40 locations.
Metal brackets that strengthen the bridge are being fabricated in Oklahoma City and Florida and are being installed as soon as they arrive, chief engineer Casey Stell told commissioners.
“In an effort to err on the side of caution and not open what we might construe as a less-than-safe bridge, we’re not going to open the bridge to any traffic until all 264 bracket assemblages are complete,” Stell said.
“We’re well aware of the impact on citizens of Lexington and Purcell and the business owners,” Stell said, adding the effort to get car traffic on there by month’s end was “to help normalize their lives a little, but unfortunately that’s not achievable for us.”
Stell showed slides of the bridge repair work to commissioners, who questioned whether all steps are being taken to expedite the process. The cracks developed after welders, on a state repair contract, were working to “stiffen up” manganese alloy pieces of the bridge structure. Every place welded later showed weaknesses, Stell said. Welding of that alloy needs to be done in a controlled temperature environment.
“The cracking is continuing, and it is exacerbated by the extreme temperatures that we have had,” he said.
The contractor, a joint venture between Manhattan Road and Bridge Co. and Sherwood Construction, will earn the bonus payment of $2,500 per hour. An additional bonus of $1,500 per hour is possible if they complete the project within the 120 days.
In February, the Department of Transportation awarded the $10.8 million contract. Gov. Mary Fallin declared the bridge repair an emergency and said getting the bridge reopened was a priority.
State officials also said:
· A free shuttle running between the two communities has drawn about 1,800 total riders with some days as many as 100 riders.
· The contractor will begin work over the river first so if spring rains arrive they can have that part complete.
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