ODOT Prepares for I-40 Bridge Rebuilding

PR #02-038


Oklahoma Department of Transportation Director Gary Ridley says that the I-40 bridge near Webbers Falls was a good, sound structure that took an incredible impact from the barge collision.

The bridge was constructed in 1967 with an expected life span of 75 years, Ridley said. It has been inspected regularly and has never had any significant problems. It was a solid, safe structure that took an enormous impact. It was inspected in June 2001 and passed with an above-average score.

Sunday's collision dropped the westernmost portion, a total of three spans, approximately a third of the total bridge, and destroyed three two-column piers.

ODOT estimates the demolition of the destroyed section and rebuilding of a new structure will take less than six months and cost around $15 million, including maintenance and repairs on the detour routes.

With the damage to the bridge and the closing of the navigation channel, two vital modes of transportation through the middle of the country have been interrupted. Approximately 20,000 vehicles a day use that portion of I-40, and each barge on the navigation system carries the equivalent load of 15 railcars or 80 semis. ODOT is working in full cooperation with all participating agencies to restore the infrastructure as soon as possible.

On the subject of pier protection from errant vessels, Ridley noted that the majority of fixed bridges across the inland navigation system do not have pier protection cells. Those that do have cells usually only have them on the upstream side.

The remaining portion of the bridge was inspected earlier in the week and showed no damage beyond the fallen area.

Demolition and removal of the fallen portion will have to be the first action, followed by construction of the replacement segments.

We're going to pursue all avenues for funding of this work as quickly as we can, Ridley said. We'll be working flat out to get this situation remedied. We hope for prompt action on the federal level to help move ahead as quickly as we can.

Signed detours are in place for both east- and westbound I-40 traffic.

We urge drivers passing through Oklahoma to try to find an alternate route around the whole area if at all possible, ODOT Public Affairs Chief Terri Angier said. The state highways on the detour were not laid out or built for the extremely heavy traffic that will be passing over them while we make the repairs. So anyone who can avoid the area will be helping to keep the traffic as low as possible to shorten delays and ease the wear on the roads.

The detours are:

Westbound: Exit I-40 at SH-10, go into Gore and pick up SH-100 southbound and return to I-40. Distance is about eight miles.

Eastbound: Exit I-40 onto SH-2 at Warner. Go south to SH-9, then east to US-59 and north back to I-40 near Sallisaw. Distance is about 60 miles back to I-40.

From northeast Oklahoma: Take US-412 across into Arkansas and pick up I-540, then go south to I-40 at Fort Smith.

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