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.
“Can I tell you we’re going to let it (go) to construction in 2015? No, I don’t think that’s achievable due to the requirements for the environmental process, the design, the right-of-way (acquisitions) and the utility relocations,” he said.
Casey said it will be at least three years before construction on a new bridge can begin, and four years would be more realistic. The project could be delayed by things like landowners reluctant to sell property for right-of-way, he said. The actual construction would take about a year and a half, he said.
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said repairs to the old bridge and the construction of a new one can’t be done quickly enough.
Cleveland said he has fielded hundreds of telephone calls from people inconvenienced by the bridge closure and can’t walk through the communities without being stopped repeatedly and questioned about progress.
“They’re frustrated with it just as I am,” he said.
As new cracks continue to be found in the bridge, rumors have circulated that weight limits may be set for the old bridge once it reopens, Cleveland said.
Shell said the repair design calls for fixes that would not require load limits but said the department will have experts look at it once repairs are complete and they will make the final decision.
Casey said he expects inspectors will continue to monitor the bridge five days a week even after repairs are complete to make sure it remains safe.