Bridge Closure Frustrates Residents In Lexington, Purcell
PURCELL, Oklahoma - The closure of the bridge connecting Purcell and Lexington has caused a major traffic headache for motorists in the area. While the bridge may look fine on the surface, inspectors found cracks in load-bearing parts of the bridge.
"Everybody was talking about," said Courtney Holmes, who works at her mom's diner. "They're really, really mad."
It was not a typical Saturday lunch crowd at the Railhead Diner. More seats were empty than full.
"As soon as they shut it down, people just stopped coming," explained Holmes. "We personally lost 60 people, at least, today."
That is a big number of customers for the small diner. As the first business over the bridge in Purcell, the diner is usually packed. One waitress said she only made $18 during the lunch shift. She usually expects to take home about $90 in the three-hour shift.
Crews with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) closed the bridge abruptly on Friday afternoon after inspectors found crack in load-bearing parts of the bridge.
"It is a dangerous situation," said Casey Shell with ODOT. "We're going to act very conservatively when we're talking about a bridge that has the potential to collapse."
The bridge was original constructed in 1938. A similar bridge in Minnesota collapsed several years ago while crews were trying to make repairs to it. ODOT plans for a two-phase approach. The first will be temporary fixes that will probably take months to complete. The second will be to purchase new land and replace the bridge completely.
Now the two towns are virtually cut off from each other. What was a mile straight-shot across the bridge is now a 30+ mile detour, taking drivers from Lexington up 77 to Highway 9 near Norman, then over to I-35 and back down to Purcell. About 9,000 vehicles were passing over the bridge every day before it was shut down.
"There's a guy that walks across it every single day and he's like, 'I have to cross it. I have to go to work.' and told him ‘No,'" said Holmes. "There's no way they're going to come. If you're going to go to the grocery store, you're going to go somewhere to eat, you're just going to go to Norman because you're not going to go all the way to Norman and then around and come back here."