Oklahoma bridges falling apart

TULSA -- Bridges in Oklahoma are falling apart at an alarming rate.

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

A state bridge up for replacement is the structure across Horse Creek along Hwy. 60 in Afton, built in 1936.

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

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

Randy Robinson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Cooperative Circuit Engineering Districts Board, said, “A new bridge, of course, over time deteriorates. Different things can make it happen faster: truck traffic, weather, floods, even fires if it's timber bridges."

Robinson studies bridges across the state and says bridges are inspected every two years. According to his research, more than 20 percent of county bridges in the counties surrounding Tulsa are structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. Creek County is on the higher end with 50 percent of the bridges being structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, and Seminole County has the highest percentage in the state with 50 percent.

Robinson explained, “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."

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 Oklahoma did not get in this position overnight.

Robinson said, “Back in the 20s, the teens, the 30s, vehicles were a lot different than they are today. So, they were built very narrow just to get across a creek, maybe one lane of traffic. Nowadays, they can't support two lanes."

He added, “We have different techniques. 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."

Robinson says funding has not allowed for the maintenance or upkeep of many bridges. In the last 20 years, there has been a 13 percent increase in material and construction costs but only a 3 percent increase in funding. With the average price tag to replace a bridge being about $400,000, Robinson says sometimes the only best strategy is to close a bridge.

However, a state bridge, like the one over Horse Creek, is on a different highway system with a different funding source. Therefore construction to replace it will start sometime this year but not to the liking of many residents.

Bynum said, “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."

It is a piece of history state officials feel needs to come down for the greater good, like so many other crumbling bridges across the state.

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