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Bridge closure would cause havoc in Cleveland

Posted at 10:36 PM, Feb 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-22 10:31:31-05

CLEVELAND, Okla- A Green Country town is concerned about a looming traffic nightmare. 

Imagine a road closure that takes your commute from minutes to a 67-mile detour that adds an hour to your drive.

That proposed project will repair and repave the bridge for $9.8 million. But residents say it isn't safe. 

It's estimated that more than 4,000 drivers cross over the Arkansas River on Highway 99 everyday between Cleveland and Hominy.

Among many of the passengers are Cleveland superintendent, Aaron Espolt's students.

"How close the towns are, our kids our students and everyone else in that relationship, i never thought it could be severed by a bridge," said Espolt. 

Espolt was concerned when he learned about the project. He says the detour could force bus drivers to pick students up as early as 5 a.m.

"We just cannot afford to add an hour transit to our students, our buses, or our staff. It's just not viable," he said.

"We're not against the repair, we're against the closure of it," said Cleveland Mayor Brian Torres. 

In a public meeting last week, ODOT told residents it would save $4 million by shutting the bridge down completely versus leaving it partially open during repairs. But Mayor Torres says that money isn't worth public safety.

"We have a half a million dollar budget here in Cleveland for our fire department. That helps those people north of the bridge," said Torres. "The safety for the people north of the bridge that's what's it’s all about."

Time is on their side. ODOT doesn't plan on starting repairs until 2020, but Espolt hopes he and other residents will still be able to use the bridge when that happens.

"Like i said in the meeting, you can't put a price on a child's head or that child's safety. So hopefully they'll consider those options," said Espolt. 

ODOT is currently taking public comments on the project now until March 3rd. If you'd like to submit a comment on this project, you can go to www.odot.org/publicmeetings and click on the Highway 99 project. 

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