Oklahoma DOT Replaces US 77 James C. Nance Bridge
Bridging the Past and Future: Oklahoma DOT Upgrades Historic US 77 James C. Nance Bridge
We expect our infrastructure to provide convenience and ease movement from one place to another. A bridge not only does that, but also serves to connect two distinct locations. The U.S. 77 James C. Nance Bridge is located in central Oklahoma and connects the towns of Purcell and Lexington. Its existence makes life better for citizens of the towns as well as those from surrounding towns.
Built just prior to World War II and at the end of the Great Depression, the bridge was constructed in 1938. The bridge, which spans the South Canadian River, is made out of Maganese steel. It’s the only bridge around built with that material, and for good reason. It’s not conducive to welding. When the material is welded upon, it breaks down.
The Need for Replacement
In 2014, the bridge was closed for several months for an emergency repair. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) needed to use special brackets to repair the bridge. While the brackets made the bridge functional, it could not restore it completely, and load restrictions were implemented. ODOT has been conducting regular inspections since the bridge reopened. There have also been periodic closures.
So, despite the restoration, it was clear a new bridge was needed. The 3,725-foot historical Nance Bridge is being replaced. The new bridge will pay homage to the old bridge by using a section of railing that was part of the original. There will also be educational displays and history of the old bridge on both sides of the new bridge as a way of remembering the past.
“While we knew we could not preserve the whole bridge as a monument, we worked with the State Historic Preservation Office to come up with something appropriate,” says Cody Boyd, a Spokesperson for ODOT.
The new bridge will be an upgrade over the former bridge in a number of ways. It will be a modern four-lane structure with shoulders, while the previous bridge was just two lanes. When accidents, car troubles, etc. caused a lane to be shut down, congestion would occur. There’s also a center turn lane for the Purcell side. These upgrades will surely please the drivers of the 10,000 vehicles who use the bridge on a daily basis. According to Boyd, ODOT is expecting a 1 to 2 percent increase in traffic in each of the next 20 years. Finally, the new bridge will also include a protected path for bicycles and pedestrians.
The Importance of Citizen Convenience
When the Nance Bridge was being repaired and was shut down, commuters had to go on a 30-mile detour in order to utilize another river crossing. The people in the towns of Purcell and Lexington especially felt the inconvenience. “Many people live in one town and work in the other or have reason to go to the other town,” says Boyd. “We’re happy for the people in the towns who will no longer be inconvenienced due to the new structure that’s being put in place.”
Because of the inconvenience caused when the bridge is unusable, the project was designed half at time so the old bridge could stay in use till a replacement was ready. The first two lanes of the new structure, which were completed in August of 2018, were completed separately. In the winter of 2018/19, the old bridge was totally deconstructed to make way for second half of the new bridge.
“This was also done to minimize the right of way on each side of the bridge,” says Boyd. “We designed the bridge to try and fit into the existing bridge’s footprint as much as possible.”
The new bridge is running on schedule and is expected to be complete by the end of the summer. Boyd credits the contractor for keeping the project on schedule. “Webber is an experienced and capable contractor, and they have made good progress,” says Boyd. “The contract included incentives and disincentives when it comes to completion, and they are striving for it.”
Those capabilities have been tested by a few complications. One of the complications is the fact that the bridge is built over a railroad track. The BNSF railroad is heavily used as it carries lots of freight. Railroad traffic also includes a daily run of commuters traveling between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. The height from the railroad to the bottom of the new bridge beams is 34.5 feet and the height from the waterline to the bridge is about 27 feet.
Building of the bridge is taking place in a flood plain. The river below the bridge, which has a significant watershed, is home to various fish and wildlife that are protected under environmental restrictions. Work in the river to put in the bridge piers can be performed only in those months that are not mating season for the protected species. Because of this, some work has been performed on top or underneath the bridge rather than in the river below.
The size of the structure and depth of the river have led to a significant number of pieces of equipment being used. The equipment used includes cranes and trucks to bring in bridge beams. According to Boyd, it’s been quite an effort to maneuver the equipment and materials.
Between the historical society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and the railroad, there are a number of parties involved. “Managing the project and working with the various parties has been a challenge,” says Boyd.
The contract for the bridge was for $38 million. It’s being financed via state and federal funds with the state picking up 70 percent of the tab and the federal government picking up the remaining 30 percent. Boyd cites two key reasons the project is on budget. “The project was very carefully designed, and there have been no major change orders.”
Soon the residents of Purcell and Lexington will be able to easily make their way over the river. The new river crossing will also provide full access to commercial trucks, as there will be no load restrictions. Concerns about structural issues and reliability will be a thing of the past. The new bridge will make the daily lives of the people more convenient.