As workers hammered away in the background, U.S. Rep. James Lankford called the old Interstate 40 Crosstown bridge “a patchwork quilt of repairs,” best torn down to make way for progress.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, spoke at a news conference on a stretch of the old highway, which is under demolition. The project is an example of the importance of giving states the flexibility to decide what to do with roads and bridges within their borders, Lankford said.
Crews began pulling down the I-40 Crosstown bridge Thursday. State Transportation Department officials expect the demolition to take about eight months, agency spokeswoman Brenda Perry said. A new highway opened earlier this year, replacing the old Crosstown.
The scheduled demolition follows unsuccessful lobbying by city officials to have the project delayed until after the NBA playoffs and Independence Day weekend, one of the busiest seasons for visitor and tourist business in Bricktown.
Once the demolition is complete, steel beams from the old Crosstown will be used in about 300 county bridge projects across Oklahoma, Transportation Department officials said. Gov. Mary Fallin said reusing those materials will help Oklahoma shore up the 706 structurally deficient bridges statewide.
Oklahoma has the fifth-most structurally deficient bridges. In the coming years, Fallin said, she hopes to see Oklahoma ranked as the state with the fewest structurally deficient bridges. The demolition of the bridge and the reuse of steel beams to repair and rebuild other bridges represent a major step toward that goal, she said.
Once the Crosstown is razed, city planners intend to build a new downtown boulevard roughly in its path. Fallin said she hopes the new road will allow for better traffic flow in and around Oklahoma City. Once complete, she said, it will also provide a prime location for shops and businesses to open.
The $700 million project has been planned since 1997, when U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., unveiled a plan to replace the aging but heavily traveled structure. Shuster, then the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced the plan at a news conference in Oklahoma City.
Shuster's son, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, returned to Oklahoma City on Monday to view the project's progress. Bill Shuster, who currently serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, called the 15-year delay “a typical example” of what happens when the federal government is involved in projects.
Shuster said the project could have been complete in as little as seven years had the state Transportation Department had fewer federal roadblocks to clear.
Greg Love, chairman of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission, recognized Fallin for making road and bridge safety a priority of her administration, calling the plan to reuse steel beams from the bridge a creative solution to a statewide problem.
“Government is not always the best at thinking out of the box,” he said.