MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 2, 2013

Work on U.S. 64 bridge might start sooner

ODOT engineer discusses repair plan at Webbers Falls meeting

— WEBBERS FALLS — State transportation officials said Wednesday they would consider advancing by one month the start date for major repairs to the U.S. 64 bridge.

The bridge, which spans the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, is a vital link for local farmers and a main artery of commerce. The bridge, which in 2010 carried about 4,400 vehicles daily, is expected to be closed 100 days while the repairs are made.

For Webbers Falls residents who bank and shop in Gore, the 1.9-mile trip will become a 10.8-mile venture into Sequoyah County town. Traffic will be re-routed to Interstate 40, a fact that set off alarms for farmers who asked about the possibility of having police escorts while moving their equipment.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation initially scheduled the $2.11 million project to begin no earlier than Nov. 1, with a target date for completion toward the end of February.

Steve Sloan, who farms land on both sides of the navigation channel, said accelerating the start date to Oct. 1 would cause fewer headaches for farmers. He said traveling the interstate during harvest season is less risky than during the spring planting season.

“We’ll be cutting beans in October, but we’ll be transporting those by truck,” Sloan said. “But when you start pulling that anhydrous (ammonia with tractors) on the interstate it can get dangerous, especially going over that bridge.”

Chris Wallace, the division construction engineer for ODOT’s Division I headquarters in Muskogee, said traffic patterns were considered when the agency scheduled the bridge project. To hasten, the agency will offer a bonus to the contractor of $4,200 a day for early completion, with a 25-day maximum.

Conversely, the contractor would be penalized $4,200 a day if the project is not completed within the 100 days. When asked about replacing the bridge’s deck, Wallace said that would double the cost and the time scheduled for the closure.

“We are trying to minimize the length of time it takes to get this done,” he said during a community meeting Wednesday on the banks of the Arkansas River. “I don’t think anybody here wants this (bridge) shut down six or seven months.”

The U.S. 64 bridge, which was built in 1969, has been declared structurally deficient. It’s one of 634 to have that rating in ODOT’s 2011 inventory of 6,750 bridges. A structurally deficient bridge is one “that can no longer carry the load it was designed to support or ... was not originally designed to support the loads being carried.”

The maintenance project, expected to go out for bids in August, will include the replacement of the bridge’s floor beams, which support the deck, or roadway, and some repairs to its concrete pillars. Although the work primarily will be structural, workers will have to cut into the deck to access the beams from above.

Wallace told Sloan and others that he would check into moving up the start date. It  could take a week or two before he has an answer, he said.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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