Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a State of Emergency in Cleveland and McClain Counties on Friday due to the closure of a bridge connecting Lexington and Purcell. The bridge was closed last week after numerous cracks were found in its supports.
Fallin toured the James C. Nance Bridge on Friday with local officials and representatives from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Office of Emergency Management. She told Purcell and Lexington residents that "help is on the way."
The bridge over the Canadian River was closed last week after the discovery of several cracks in the bridge's truss beams. Officials declared the bridge to be unsafe and shut it down to vehicular traffic.
Lexington and Purcell are less than two miles apart. According to officials, since the bridge closure, commuters living in one town but working in another have been forced to take detours of roughly 40 miles, dramatically increasing commute times and fuel expenses.
Safety concerns have also arisen as ambulances are being forced to take the same detours, officials said.
"This bridge is a safety hazard and is at risk of collapse," said Fallin. "Keeping it open would have threatened lives. It had to close. Unfortunately, that has created an economic hardship, not to mention a severe inconvenience, for the people of Lexington and Purcell.
"This is a challenging time, but these communities are not going-it-alone. We are making every resource available to lighten the burden this has caused for local residents. We are working hard not only to dramatically shorten the timeline for the repair of this bridge, but to put in place interim plans to help these communities while work is being finished," Fallin said.
The State of Emergency makes monetary reimbursements available to Cleveland and McClain counties as well as Lexington and Purcell. Each entity can receive up to $100,000 of state dollars to reimburse expenses incurred due to the bridge closure. Bus services and ambulance services are both expenses that qualify for reimbursement.
Additionally, ODOT is partnering with transit agencies and funding shuttles between Lexington and Purcell with multiple runs throughout the day. The shuttle service begins on Friday.
The agency is also dramatically speeding up their bidding and construction process. As one example, a normal bidding process that often takes about 160 days before a project is let to contract will take about three to four days under this emergency process, according to authorities.
"A bridge rehabilitation project like this usually takes over a year to complete," said ODOT Director Michael Patterson. "Governor Fallin has made it very clear, the people in this community can't wait that long. She has instructed us to speed that up by three times. We are doing everything we can to speed this process up and finish this project in a matter of months."
To assist citizens with up to date information, a link has been placed on the ODOT website detailing a timeline and schedule of daily shuttles and updates as they become available.