By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Muskogee County commissioners are negotiating the purchase of property needed to move forward with the construction of a new bridge over the Grand River near Fort Gibson.
Commissioners are expected to approve the $10,000 purchase of one parcel when they meet today. Purchase prices for two additional parcels — one owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and another by a private party — are being negotiated, but the project could be ready for bid by next spring or early summer.
The “high-priority” project has been in the works since 2008, when the paving of Three Rivers Road from the Grand River into Wagoner County was completed. Funding for the bridge project was made available in 2012 through the state’s County Improvements for Roads and Bridges program.
District 1 Commissioner Gene Wallace said engineers have completed the design phase, and a river flow study has been done. Initial concerns about the possible presence of artifacts and indigenous burial sites, which delayed progress, also have been resolved.
The $6.33 million project will replace a 781-foot, single-lane bridge built in 1909 that connects Fort Gibson with Three Rivers Road, which leads to Okay. The road follows the first leg of Washington Irving’s 19th-century trek through parts of the Arkansas River watershed.
The famous American essayist recorded his journey, which began and ended at Fort Gibson, in his book “A Tour on the Prairies.” There has been a push for some time to designate the route of Irving’s historic tour as a scenic byway, but those efforts have yet to yield results.
“There are a lot of people who would rather drive that road now since it has been paved, and the traffic count is up substantially,” Wallace said. “We’ve gotten good service from that bridge that was designed for Model Ts, but it has outlasted its usefulness.”
Wallace said the one-lane bridge would be preserved for its historical significance and would become a walkway. He said it is not feasible economically to tear it down, and it could be a draw for history-based tourism.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or email@example.com.