Number of Oklahoma bridges falling apart climbs

AFTON, Okla. - Bridges in Oklahoma are falling apart at an alarming rate.

Our state has the third highest number of deficient bridges in the nation with one in four county bridges being deficient or obsolete.

He's talking about the bridge that is over horse creek along highway 60 in Afton, Oklahoma, which was built in 1936.

"This bridge is like a historical marker for home," Afton resident Kenda Bynum said. "When people see the bridge and you come into Afton, you're home."

It's historically protected, but ODOT says the bridge is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete…  no longer able to safely handle the current and future traffic demands because of its narrow design and deterioration.

"A new bridge, of course, over time deteriorates," Randy Robinson with the OK Cooperative Circuit Engineering Districts Board said. "Different things can make it happen faster: truck traffic, weather, floods, even fires if it's timber bridges."
 
Randy Robinson studies bridges across the state and says bridges are inspected every two years.

According to his research, this is the percentage of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in green country counties.

But don't let these numbers scare you.

"Structurally deficient doesn't mean it's going to collapse tomorrow, it means there's something going on that we need to be aware of," Robinson said.

Functionally obsolete means the bridge is too narrow.

These numbers continue to grow over time.

Robinson says one in seven county bridges cannot hold a fully loaded school bus, but we didn't get here overnight.  
 
"Back in the 20s, the teens, the 30s, vehicles were a lot different than they are today," Robinson said. "So, they were built very narrow just to get across a creek, maybe one lane of traffic. Nowadays, they can't support two lanes."
 
When some of these bridges were built, in some cases nearly 100 years ago, resources and engineering wasn't there to make bridges like this one stand the test of time.

"We have different techniques," Robinson said. "So, we can build a bridge now that lasts 75 to 100 years out of concrete and steel where they didn't have that kind of technology decades ago."

So, why haven't these bridges been kept up over time?

Well, there's an easy answer.

"Cost is definitely outpace funding," Robinson said.
 
Robinson says in the last 20 years, there's been a 13 percent increase in material and construction costs.. But only a three percent increase in funding.

So with the average price tag to replace a bridge being about $400,000 dollars.

"A lot of times, the only best strategy is to close them," Robinson said. "If you don't have the money, that's what you're going to do."

But a state bridge, like the one over horse creek, has a different funding source, so construction to replace it will start sometime this year, but not to the liking of many residents.

"To see it torn down would be devastating, not just for our grandparents and for us but for our children who will never remember that or never know what that home marker is going to be," Robinson said. "This is a piece of history to me. Kids like me will not know this piece of history was even existed."

A piece of history state officials feel needs to come down for the greater good.

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