LEXINGTON — Gov. Mary Fallin said she considered everything from using six-wheel drive amphibious vehicles to carry people across the Canadian River to building a temporary low-water bridge for light traffic to minimize the effect of a bridge closure on Lexington and Purcell residents.
By Friday, she had decided on three major steps: declare a state of emergency for Cleveland and McClain counties, put repair of the James C. Nance Memorial Bridge on a fast track and have the state Transportation Department “pick up the tab” for a free shuttle service between the two communities for the duration of the repair process.
The shuttle service began Friday with pickup and drop-off sites at 605 Green Ave. in Purcell and at the First Baptist Church at 900 E Broadway in Lexington.
At least four transit companies from across the state will help provide the shuttles, making multiple daily runs between the two cities.
Shuttles will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We looked at all kinds of options from building a low-level crossing to using Ducks (amphibious vehicles), but we had to take into consideration what is feasible and what is safe,” Fallin said.
A low-level crossing was rejected because of the railroad tracks that run underneath the bridge, besides the threat of spring rains washing it out once it was built, the governor said.
The quickest and best solution seemed to be declaring a state of emergency for Cleveland and McClain counties and dramatically moving up the timeline for repair of the bridge, Fallin said.
If all goes well, repairs could be completed in four months, said Michael Patterson, director of the Oklahoma Transportation Department.
“Normally, repairs of this type would take a year, but I said that was unacceptable,” Fallin said.
The bridge was closed Jan. 31 after numerous cracks were found in its supports.
“We were afraid of a catastrophic incident if the bridge remained open. It had to close,” Patterson said.
The 22 cracks found in January were not there when the bridge was inspected a year ago, he said.
Problem caught in time
Fallin toured the bridge site Friday with local officials, legislators and a team of experts from the Transportation Department, the Oklahoma National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We are very, very fortunate no one got killed on this bridge,” Fallin said. “ODOT is to be commended for catching the problem in time.”
While necessary, the bridge closing has had “a devastating effect on both Purcell and Lexington, and we are aware of that,” the governor said.
“We know how vital this link is between the two communities.”
What was a two-mile commute for most people needing to get from one city to another has become a 40-mile commute, she said.
People are facing higher fuel costs and less time with their families because of it, she said.
In addition, the economic impact on both Lexington and Purcell is enormous.
About 2,200 people live in Lexington, while Purcell is a city of about 6,000.
“This is a challenging time, but these communities are not going it alone. We are making every resource available to lighten the burden this has caused for local residents,” Fallin said.
Patterson said bids for the repair project will be accepted on Wednesday and the contract awarded on Friday.
“We hope to begin work on it by that evening,” he said.
The state will offer early completion incentives, Patterson said.
Once the cracks are bolstered, the bridge probably can be reopened to light traffic even before the full repair job is complete, he said.
Fallin's declaration of emergency made it possible to expedite the design and bidding process, he said.
The declaration makes monetary reimbursements available to Cleveland and McClain counties, as well as Lexington and Purcell, for expenses incurred during the repair process, Fallin said.
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said the bridge closing causes other problems such as how senior citizens will get their daily hot meals delivered.
The meals have come from Purcell, but Cleveland said a plan already is in the works to get the meals cooked and delivered in Lexington.
“This is a community problem, and we have to work together as a community to solve it,” Cleveland said.
Patterson said the bridge repair “will be good for 10 years, to give us time to design and build a new bridge so that nothing like this will ever happen again.”
Site offers information
To assist residents, a link on the Transportation Department website detailing a timeline and schedule of daily shuttles and updates as they become available. For information, go online to www.okladot.state.ok.us and click on the Lexington/Purcell link.