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.”