I-40 Bridge at Webbers Falls Opens Ahead of Schedule

July 29, 2002


            Careful planning, fast action and hard work combined to allow the reopening of the I-40 bridge at Webbers Falls even earlier than the contractors ambitious estimate.

            After a brief ceremony on July 29 that included remarks from transportation and government officials and a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the accident, traffic began rolling in both directions. It was more than a week earlier than the deadline date set in the construction contract.

            Everyone connected with this project has given a maximum effort from the very beginning,ODOT Director Gary Ridley said. Im tremendously proud of the way our ODOT people responded to this crisis and the long, hard hours they worked. The many organizations we have partnered with on this project have also given the utmost in work and cooperation.

            Our contractor, Gilbert Central, did an incredible job of organizing and carrying out a project that would normally take twice as long.

            With a major coast-to-coast traffic artery interrupted by the bridge disaster, rapid reconstruction was imperative, and all parties came through brilliantly. We had a safe, well-coordinated project and an early completion on a sound, properly designed structure,Ridley said.

            The bridge was struck by two barges moving upstream outside the marked channel of the Arkansas River navigation system on the morning of May 26. The falling sections of the bridge resulted in 14 motorists being killed.

            That those people died at this place will always be in the background of our thoughts about the bridge,Ridley said.

            In response to the disaster, ODOT set up detours and immediately began planning for the reconstruction of nearly 600 feet of the damaged bridge.

            With unprecedented speed, a special pre-bid meeting was called at the bridge site, bids were opened and the contract awarded to Gilbert Central of Fort Worth. The contractor bid a time of 57 days for the bridge to reopen. The clock started running at 6 p.m. the day the contract was awarded, June 12.

            Wheels were already turning to get the money needed for the project without crippling ODOTs other construction projects. The Federal Highway Administration and the Oklahoma Congressional delegation worked to come up with federal money, even as engineers refined the material and construction requirements for the job.

            FHWA Assistant Division Administrator Lubin Quiñones noted the close communication and cooperation between government agencies and the private sector. This is a very gratifying example of what can happen when everyone works together with a critical objective,he said.

            A trio of retired ODOT engineers, representing over a century of construction experience between them, was called upon to head up the specially-established Webbers Falls Residency to oversee and coordinate the project.

            Unlike a permanent residency, that handles a number of projects in several counties, the Webbers Falls office was set up solely for the I-40 bridge project.

            One of the features of the contract was an incentive/disincentive clause. For every hour the contractor beat the reopening deadline, $6,000 would be added to the payoff. For every hour over the deadline, $6,000 would be deducted.

            By beating the deadline by 10 days, Gilbert Central earned an extra million and a half dollars.

            There is still work to be done at the site. Periodic lane closures will take place for striping and other minor tasks. The contractor will be making those finishing touches for a while, but reopening the bridge in a safe, operational condition was the critical factor and the basis for the incentive deadline. More time is built in to complete the rest of the project.

            This was a unique operation,Ridley noted. I believe the steps we took in repairing the bridge were the correct ones, and showed what can be done when you really have to respond quickly to a serious situation.