Repairs on the James C. Nance Memorial Bridge, which connects the cities of Lexington and Purcell, have been delayed by the discovery of additional cracks and structural defects. The bridge was scheduled to open to car and light truck traffic on March 31, but the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) now expects the bridge to be closed to all traffic until June 14.

At a meeting on March 10, Oklahoma Transportation Commissioners heard a report from ODOT engineers detailing the difficulties with the bridge repair. When the bridge was first closed, ODOT engineers identified 10 major cracks which needed to be repaired. As of the date of the meeting, the engineers had identified 41 areas with significant cracking, and expected that number to continue rising.

The cracks in the bridge formed as a result of last years bridge repair project. During that project, ODOT officials failed to warn the contractor performing the renovation that part of the bridge was constructed from a rare manganese alloy steel. Unlike other types of steel, welding on manganese alloy steel weakens it and makes it crack. This winters unusually cold temperatures caused the welds to crack rapidly, which lead to the Commissioners decision to close the bridge to all traffic until the bridge is completely repaired.

The 41 cracking areas are just part of 264 areas of structural weakness which will need to be repaired before the bridge can be reopened. The contractor remains confident that all repairs will be finished by the June 14 deadline, barring any more unexpected complications. In order to complete the work as quickly as possible, the contractor has hired two shifts of workers, which allows repair work to continue for 16 hours per day. The repairs are currently ahead of schedule as a result of the additional workers as well as the $1,500 per hour bonus ODOT offered the contractor for each hour before the deadline the repairs are completed.

Local businesses continue to suffer from decreased customer traffic. Many are starting campaigns pleading with residents to shop locally and help make up the lost revenue. To ease the lengthy commute between Lexington and Purcell, ODOT has increased the number of free shuttles running between the cities. ODOT will continue to provide weekly updates on the progress of the construction project. You can read these updates at www.okladot.state.ok.us.