In Oklahoma, state highway bridges a river and time

State Highway 79 bridge in Jefferson County is one of nine bridges now available for adoption as part of the state Transportation Department’s Cultural Resources Program.
by Bryan Painter Modified: March 9, 2014 at 7:56 pm •  Published: March 9, 2014
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The State Highway 79 bridge in Jefferson County crosses the Red River.

But this camelback pony truss, 2,255 feet in length, also spans 75 years.

The structure is now one of nine bridges available for adoption as part of the state Transportation Department’s Cultural Resources Program.

Since roughly 1993, nine bridges have been claimed. Four of these were taken by private individuals, four were local municipalities, including the Doby Springs Golf Course near Buffalo and Rogers Point Park in Catoosa. The state Transportation Department was the recipient of one historic bridge, which currently sits in front of the Division 8 Headquarters in Tulsa.

Bob Rose, a state Transportation Department Division 7 engineer based in Duncan, recently drove down to the SH 79 bridge at the Red River crossing.

There, Rose talked about why this structure with 21 spans is being offered for adoption and why someone might want portions of the bridge.

As Rose stood off to the side of the highway, a flatbed pickup toting a spiked round bale of hay traveled from the Oklahoma side of the bridge southward. A few minutes later, a northbound truck crossed from Texas into Oklahoma.

Rose said the primary reason the bridge is being replaced is that it is structurally deficient. While that doesn’t mean it is unusable like the Purcell-Lexington bridge, it “cannot support the design traffic loads anymore,” he said.

Picturesque structure

“We need to replace it so that regular traffic that is good for commerce for Oklahoma and Texas can cross the Red River at this location,” Rose said. “It’s a stunningly picturesque structure, but steel deteriorates with weather and with salt that has been placed on the deck for icy conditions. That leads to problems. This bridge is about 75 years old and that’s a good life for a bridge like this.

“There are also issues with the stream erosion that make it desirable to replace. The location here in the Red River is one that has been problematic through the years from the standpoint of stream erosion. The soil is real sandy in the Red River and the river progresses to move downstream in a serpentine fashion, just the way a snake crawls on the ground. It erodes in the curves and deposits sand after the water makes the turn.”

It’s just a continual movement of the stream channel. That’s part of why Rose said it’s important to remove the old bridge instead of leaving it next to its replacement.

“One day there will likely be a time when the structure is weakened enough and the forces of nature are strong enough that it is going to tear it down,” Rose said. “And if it tore it down when the water was at flood stage it very likely could sweep the remnants of the old bridge into the new one and damage or knock out the new bridge.”

The 1980s were “very problematic from the standpoint of stream erosion and the bridge being at-risk.”

There was a flood on May 15, 1980, that caused damage and another on June 1 that year. In the case of the latter, Oklahoma’s state Transportation Department along with the Texas Department of Transportation hauled in fill-material to abate erosion of the approach embankment on the Texas end of the bridge. There was a flood in October 1983 and another in 1985. Work was done in between and after those floods.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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Information about Oklahoma’s adopt-a-bridge program

Here is additional information from Scott Sundermeyer, the state Transportation Department’s cultural resources program director, about adopting a bridge marketed by the state Transportation Department.

Q: How does someone adopt a bridge?

A: With our new process of sending out press releases, one need only look in their local newspaper or keep their eyes on other local media. In addition, we place current information about all our bridges that are available for adoption on our website at www.odotculturalresources.info/adopt-a-bridge.html.

Currently, we have nine bridges available. These bridge projects are in various stages of development. As such, some are available sooner than others. For those who are interested, we ask that a short proposal be prepared outlining the intended use of the bridge and the location where it will be moved. We want to ensure that the spirit of the program, that the structure is preserved, is met.

Q: What are the specifics with this program: Responsibilities financially and otherwise of the recipient(s)? What are the responsibilities of ODOT in this program? Who moves it? When is it available to move, when a new bridge is completed, before completion or at another stage in the process?

A: The most important goal of the program is to make historic bridges available to people who are going to value and appreciate their historic significance — in other words, ‘preserve’ the bridge.

Preservation is a responsibility of the recipient. In order to ensure that we are providing a good home to the historic bridge, we ask that the interested recipient prepare a short proposal, which should outline the method proposed to move the bridge, the intended use for the bridge, and where the structure is to be moved.

We ideally want the bridge to retain its function as a structure that spans a body of water, whether that be a stream, creek, pond, etc. At this time, ODOT does not offer financial assistance in the transport of the bridge.

The recipient is generally responsible for the move and is encouraged to work with ODOT and the contractor in the details of the move. In general, the recipient cannot take over the historic bridge until the new bridge is constructed and open, but there is flexibility after this point. For instance, the historic bridge can be removed and set aside for the recipient to pick up at a later, more convenient date.

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