Those attending a public hearing Thursday night at the Catoosa Community Center in Catoosa, Okla., heard bad news and good news regarding the historic but decrepit Bird Creek Bridge that carried Route 66.
The bad news is the westbound 1936 bridge will be gone in a matter of months and replaced by a nondescript $5.4 million steel girder bridge. Route 66 advocates efforts’ to have the Oklahoma Department of Transportation build a new bridge that resembles or uses parts of the old bridge went for naught because of cost and/or safety reasons.
The removal of the historic bridge would end a prime photo op of the so-called Twin Bridges over Bird Creek and a big railroad bridge in the background.
The good news is a portion of the steel structure of the old bridge will be used at the entrance of adjacent Rogers Point Public Park. Also, ODOT will formulate a preservation plan for other historic Route 66 bridges and road structures, with the help of the state’s Historic Preservation Office.
ODOT engineer Craig Moody, who presided over the meeting, said its bridge proposal made the least impact on Rogers Point park, nearby businesses, and was the least-expensive option. He estimated the new bridge would be open to traffic by fall 2011.
As part of the agreement, ODOT will:
- Forge an agreement with the Oklahoma State Historical Preservation Office. That includes repainting the eastbound 1956 bridge over Bird Creek by 2015 and other repairs. ODOT officials at the meeting said the agreement would include a preservation plan for seven bridges or road structures on Route 66.
- Use one or two of the steel truss spans from the decrepit Bird Creek Bridge at the entrance of Rogers Point Public Park.
- Produce a video documentary about the Twin Bridges.
- Complete Historic American Engineering Record documentation of the 1936 bridge as well as the existing setting of both the Twin Bridges.
The westbound Bird Creek Bridge is deemed too narrow, too low for some trucks, and was closed for 40 emergency repairs in the past two years. On Nov. 29, 2010, the state declared the bridge unsafe, ordered it closed as soon as possible, and detoured its traffic to the eastbound bridge.
Moody declared the eastbound bridge “safe,” with its deck in good condition. He said the state would repaint it and conduct joint repairs in 2015 for an estimated $1.5 million.
When asked about the compromise proposal to use the steel trusses from the 1936 bridge as a decorative element on the new bridge, ODOT engineer Greg Allen said such a structure wouldn’t be stable enough to hold up to modern traffic and design standards. “It’s not safe,” he said.
Engineers also said ODOT had become “reactive, not preventative” with highway and bridge maintenance from 1985 to 2005 because state funding for the agency remained “flat.” That neglect from a 20-year lack of funds greatly shortened the life of bridges, including Bird Creek. Currently, about 400 bridges in the district that includes much of northeastern Oklahoma need repair.
Dawn Sullivan, an ODOT engineer, said the historic Route 66 bridges included in the preservation plan included the “Pony” Bridge near Bridgeport, Captain Creek Bridge near Wellston, and the I-40 service road bridge near Sayre. Sullivan didn’t have a full list of those bridges Thursday.
In her opinion, the Pony Bridge would receive the focus in the preservation plan. “We know it’s the crown jewel of Route 66 in Oklahoma,” she said.
Emily Priddy, aka Redforkhippie, advocated that ODOT impose stricter weight limits on historic Route 66 bridges to extend their life.
She also asked whether decorative pony trusses would be added to the sides of the new bridge after it was finished. Allen said “theoretically” it could be done, and it might be considered in the future. He and other ODOT engineers encouraged attendees and Route 66 advocates to convey those ideas in the comment form, which can be e-mailed.
The PowerPoint presentation at the public hearing can be seen here (warning: big Acrobat file).