PURCELL — State transportation officials aren’t waiting on completion of multimillion-dollar repairs to the Purcell-Lexington bridge before beginning work to replace it.
Environmental and design work on a new bridge are underway already, said Casey Shell, chief engineer for the state Transportation Department.
Residents of Lexington and Purcell have been forced to endure a major crisis since transportation officials ordered the bridge closed on Jan. 31 after a rehabilitation project went awry, causing dozens of cracks to form around welded areas on the 76-year-old bridge. What was once a short trip between the two communities now requires a 45-minute detour.
Fixing the bridge has proved problematic with new cracks continuously showing up and slowing progress.
Shell said June 14 still looks like a good target date for completion of repairs, but transportation officials also want to put replacement of the bridge on fast track even though the repairs are designed to make the old bridge usable for at least 10 more years.
“We certainly want to get this bridge replaced as quickly as possible,” Shell said.
Normally the department would wait for an environmental study to be completed before beginning design work to avoid wasted effort and money, because the results of the environmental study can alter a bridge design, he said.
In this case, the department is taking a risk and doing both simultaneously because of the urgency of replacing the bridge, he said.
Paying for construction of the replacement bridge, predicted to cost about $40 million, isn’t currently in the department’s eight-year construction plan, but the department will look at revising that plan to bump other projects so this one can be done sooner, Shell said.