WASHINGTON, OK — Steel beams that were part of the old elevated Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City have a new role in nearly two-dozen county bridges throughout Oklahoma in what is considered one of the largest bridge-recycling projects in the country.
Nineteen county bridges have been built from the beams that ran parallel with the traffic under the roadway, according to Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials. Construction is underway on 10 other county bridges and plans are being developed on 40 others.
Terri Angier, a state Transportation Department spokeswoman, said 2,060 beams were salvaged from the 50-year-old bridge.
Officials originally thought about 1,800 could be reused.
So far, 360 beams have been used in the county bridge projects, she said.
It's been estimated the beams eventually could be used in at least 300 county bridges.
The beams from what was the state's longest bridge were shipped to 21 distribution points across the state in what the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials cited as one of the biggest efforts of its kind, Angier said.
“If this is not the No. 1, it's in the top few of being the largest recycling transportation project,” she said.
“We knew it was a great idea in terms of beginning the process, but we also knew it would take time for us as Oklahomans to realize what a huge success this story is in terms of recycling, saving taxpayers' dollars, reusing materials and helping county bridges all at the same time.”
Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said transportation industry experts believe the Crosstown recycling project is one of the largest of its kind ever.
“By recycling hundreds of steel beams, not only is ODOT saving taxpayers millions of dollars today, it's helping to create a legacy of bridges across the state which will serve Oklahomans for years to come,” he said.
Part of a $12.4 million demolition contract called for salvaging as many as possible of the more than 2,000 steel beams under the deck of the nearly 2-mile-long elevated Crosstown Expressway.
The beams were inspected, and those deemed safe were made available at no cost to counties. Work started early last year and finished in November.
Most of the beams are 33 inches thick and are at least 60 feet long. A typical county bridge that spans 50 feet would use five beams; estimated value of each beam is about $8,000. Counties must have enough money to pay for the other costs of building a bridge.
Angier said the beams have an estimated value of at least $10 million.
McClain County bridge
McClain County District 2 Commissioner Wilson Lyles said the beams helped expedite replacing a one-lane, wooden bridge over an unnamed creek on 240th Street about two miles east of Washington.
School buses no longer could be driven on the structure, built in 1940, because it couldn't support their weight, he said. Farmers couldn't drive wide farm equipment across the narrow bridge. It had a weight limit of 5 tons; two of its wooden girders were split.
“This was one of the first bridges we knew (to replace) once we heard the Crosstown beams were coming back to the county,” Lyles said.
He used six beams for the 40-foot-long bridge; using the Crosstown beams saved the county about $20,000 on the project, Lyles said.
“With that $20,000, we were able to put that toward other projects or even put that toward another bridge.
“You come from a one-lane bridge to a 24-foot-wide bridge, and with the agricultural activity in the area, the people are able to cross their equipment, so it's a great convenience. Once you lose a bridge in a certain part of the county, it's like that part of the county just dies. These bridges are important to rural areas.
“Even though you may just have a few residents out here, they're just as important as those folks in town. This bridge is as important to these people as the new Crosstown is to the folks in Oklahoma City.”
State's poor ranking
The Crosstown beams are intended to help counties replace unsafe and structurally deficient bridges.
A study by the Transportation for America group last month ranked Oklahoma as having the second-largest share of deteriorating bridges, with 22 percent of its nearly 24,000 bridges considered deficient. The national average was 11 percent.
State highway bridges make up about 6,800 of the nearly 24,000 bridges in the state; in 2005, 17 percent of the state bridges, or 1,168, were considered structurally deficient. Data from the report show that in 2012 the number of structurally deficient bridges was reduced to 556, or 8 percent, of the state bridges.
Poor county bridges harm the state's ranking.
County bridges number 14,164 and make up about 60 percent of the state's bridges, said Randy Robinson, executive director of the Oklahoma Cooperative Circuit Engineering Districts Board. Of those, 4,414 are deficient and 502 are obsolete. Replacing those bridges is estimated to cost $1.5 billion.
“We hope to knock off about 300 of them with these beams,” he said.