Oklahoma is embarking on a new rapid bridge-building program that is expected to dramatically reduce the amount of time that motorists are delayed.
Parts or all of a new bridge would be built next to or near an existing bridge, and then scooted over to be assembled, state Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley told Oklahoma Transportation Commission members Monday. The process would be used on a project-by-project basis, and would be practical only in areas where enough space is available to build the structure nearby.
“You have to be careful about locations you can do it with,” Ridley told commissioners. “There's an inherent problem with trying to get it over a creek or a river.”
When told that Oklahoma's first rapid bridge-building project was over a creek, Ridley said: “Shoot. Well, I don't know how that's going to work out. I can't believe we're going to try a river crossing first.”
Commissioners approved a $3.8 million bid to Manhattan Road and Bridge Co. to use the accelerated bridge construction method to replace the nearly 300-foot-long State Highway 51 bridge over Cottonwood Creek in Creek County, west of Mannford.
“It will be very interesting to follow,” Ridley said after the meeting.
Randle White, division engineer for the Tulsa area, said motorists under normal construction practices would be affected adversely for the entire period of the nine-month project. Motorists would either be detoured 30 miles to another route or limited to one-lane traffic over the two-lane bridge, he said. The bridge handles about 4,000 vehicles a day.
Under the rapid bridge-building program, motorists will be rerouted for only 21 days, White said.
Construction on the project should start in the next 90 days. Because of the accelerated bridge-building approach, the overall time for the project is reduced from nine to six months, he said.
White said a lot of land around the bridge is open.
Workers will build the top part of the new bridge structure next to the existing bridge while crews work on the piers and foundation underneath the existing bridge, he said.
“They'll tear out the old bridge and slide that (new structure) into the location,” White said.
Ridley said the cost of an accelerated bridge project likely will be more expensive than a traditional bridge rebuilding project. But motorists aren't affected nearly as long and the state gets a new bridge built quicker.
Other states have used the accelerated bridge-building approach, and Oklahoma transportation officials believe the method is preferable for some projects, Ridley said.
The state Transportation Department used a similar approach in 2002 to rebuild a portion of the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls in 47 days, which set a national record for a project of that size. Two barges hit the bridge, sending a 580-foot segment of the bridge, which typically carried 20,000 vehicles per day, into the Arkansas River. Fourteen people were killed when their vehicles plunged into the river.
Ridley said a speedy repair was necessary because of concerns over the high volume of big-truck traffic being rerouted to two-lane highways and unsafe bridges.
“We were running interstate traffic on narrow two-lane roads and we had at least a dozen bridges that we had serious concerns about,” Ridley said. “We had to get traffic off of those detours as quickly as we could.”