UPDATED 4:26 p.m.
LEXINGTON, Okla. – Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced Thursday that she will be joined by local officials and representatives from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Friday to announce a plan to address the closure of a bridge that connects the communities of Lexington and Purcell.
Governor Fallin will tour the bridge and hold a press conference announcing state actions to help these two communities at the Lexington Fire Department.
The bridge that allows drivers to travel between two different counties is expected to be closed for several months.
Last month, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation closed the James C. Nance Memorial Bridge.
The bridge along U-S 77 and State Hwy 39 connects Lexington to Purcell.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said it closed the bridge after engineers found cracks in the beams on the truss system under the bridge.
In all, 22 cracks were found in the bridge beams, ranging from one inch to almost seven inches long.
Chief Deana Allen, with the Lexington Police Department, said, “Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) told me this morning that if the right truck went across, that the bridge had the potential for failure.”
Officials say the bridge is similar to the Minnesota I-35W bridge that collapsed in 2007.
They stressed the James Nance Memorial Bridge has cracks severe enough the bridge could potentially collapse under its own weight.
Construction could take years and it will cost the state $40 million to replace the bridge.
Lexington school buses and Mid-America votech drivers had to go off route to get students to class.
Allen said, “Mid-America in Wayne is having to reroute their buses. They run students from the votech to Lexington and Noble.”
Signs are posted on either end of the bridge, but NewsChannel 4 crews watched as multiple overweight vehicles sped by, adding more pressure to the crack in the beam truss system.
Ralph Barkley was one of the few to even realize the new requirement, but it was too late.
He was hauling 13 tons, so he voluntarily turned around.
Larry Clore, a spokesperson for ODOT, said, “We’ve been telling people for a while now that we really need to pay attention to our bridges because they, a lot of them, are in poor shape.”
He said there are 560 bridges in the state that are deemed structurally deficient.
He added, “This just goes to prove the point that we need to focus more on getting our bridges repaired.”
But that’s not something that will happen overnight.
Clore said, “As long as we keep the large trucks off, there is no safety concern as long as we keep it under that five ton limit.”
The bridge falls under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
Chief Allen just wants the agency to patrol the bridge to help keep extra weight off of it.
Allen said, “Someone has to be responsible for ensuring that the signs are being obeyed.”
OHP officials told NewsChannel 4 they will research the area to determine if patrols are needed.
If so, they say they will implement them.