Oklahoma invites public comments on Pony Bridge redevelopment

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is asking for opinions on a future project to rehabilitate the U.S. 281 bridge, aka the Pony Bridge, over the South Canadian River near Bridgeport.

The nearly 4,000-foot-long William H. Murray Bridge, built in 1934, is on the National Register of Historic Places and appeared in a scene of the Oscar-winning “The Grapes of Wrath” film. The Route 66 span consists of 38 “pony” trusses, hence its popular nickname.

ODOT stated in a news release:

The project proposes to improve safety by addressing the existing bridge’s deficient conditions while also preserving the historic integrity of the Route 66 corridor. While the travel lanes are proposed to be widened to accommodate modern truck widths, the department also will take several preservation measures such as retaining the iconic pony truss members on the sides of the structure to maintain the historic feel and appearance of the bridge. The proposed project is still in the development stages and the department is seeking comments relative to the social, economic and environmental effects of this project.

Comments will be accepted now through Oct. 18. The public can visit www.odot.org/US281Bridgeport to view a presentation, 3-D video of the completed project and other materials about the proposal and submit comments. Comments also may be emailed to environment@odot.org.

The state last month landed a $22 million grant for the project. The entire cost is estimated at $28 million. The work to widen and strengthen the bridge is scheduled to begin in early 2022 and will last 18 months, though contractors will be given incentives if the work is finished earlier.

It will include closing the bridge and lengthy detours. However, ODOT states the work will add 75 years to the life of the bridge when completed.

Without the grant, the state probably would have built a new bridge around the span and closed the older bridge to traffic, leading to further decay to the elements.

(Screen-capture image from ODOT video of an artist’s rendering of the reconstructed Pony Bridge near Bridgeport, Oklahoma)

5 thoughts on “Oklahoma invites public comments on Pony Bridge redevelopment

  1. As someone who has been involved with transport, transportation and civil engineering for much of my life, I see no justification for what is intended for this National Historic Register listed bridge.

    Google Street View images show almost no traffic on the single carriageway length of US 281 between where it crosses Interstate 40 and the T junction where it joins the US 281 dual carriageway section starting at the latter’s connection with Interstate 40. Indeed, Interstate 40 has little traffic on it.

    Government organisations reliant on ‘other people’s money’ – here the taxes from federal and state taxpayers – see it as their ‘duty’ to spend the taxpayers’ money on often unnecessary and sometimes detrimental projects. This ‘duty’ is summed up in the sentence, “While the travel lanes are proposed to be widened to accommodate modern truck widths, the department also will take several preservation measures such as retaining the iconic pony truss members on the sides of the structure to maintain the historic feel and appearance of the bridge”.

    Shortly after US 281 comes north from the junction with Interstate 40 there is a “WEIGHT LIMIT 9 TONS” sign. The pavement immediately changes to that of the old Route 66, with wide side strips for animal-drawn vehicles; a rare extant example of 1930s road building. Beyond a recently designed junction with Route 66, there is another “WEIGHT LIMIT 9 TONS” sign. And the side strips are largely grassed over, perhaps from lack of use.

    But while the road has a 9 ton limit, the bridge has one of “15 TONS”. Please explain.

    Besides, from the second “WEIGHT LIMIT 9 TONS” sign to beyond the bridge, the carriageway remains the same width – that of the old Route 66. While the lack of traffic may be put down to either of the weight limits, the modern ‘alternative’ routes are all but empty as well. Hardly an indication of any need to widen and strengthen the bridge.

    Yet the ODoT wants to “widen the travel lanes [of the bridge] to accommodate modern truck widths”. Then will come the widening of travel lanes all the way between the two US 281 junctions already mentioned. And the destruction of the “9 TON” limit old Route 66 pavement.

    But where are these “modern trucks” needing to use this short cut along US 281 from Interstate 40? From Google Street View, there are none. None!

    This strikes me as yet another scheme dreamed up by people who hate seeing anything a bit old-fashioned. By all means put a bridge on the National Historic Register, but only if it can be dressed up to ‘look’ historic.

    Think of it – 28 MILLION US dollars of taxpayers’ money for this bit of pretence. As for “It will include closing the bridge and lengthy detours”, the whole route using Interstate 40 and the dual carriageway section of US 281 would be a some ELEVEN MILE journey – or some SEVEN MILES longer than between the single carriageway start and finish points – on modern alignments at up to 70 mph. That is a “lengthy detour”? By the way, another section of Route 66 bypasses the bridge and links the single and dual carriageway parts of US 281 – reducing the detour considerably.

    Just how frequently is the current bridge used – by any traffic? How frequently is Interstate 40 used by any traffic, including “modern trucks”? As with countless bridges around the world that have limited widths for present day vehicles, why not save the whole cost of rebuilding this “iconic” one by easily installing traffic lights – to allow alternate directions of use? And many historic bridges have gross weight limits. Why not keep the 15 ton weight limit? What are ELEVEN (or SEVEN) MILES of extra driving for a few trucks over 15 tons?

    What is the point of having a National Historic Register listing, if no one – most especially the state and federal governments – is going to honour and actually protect the country’s history,?

    The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has one simple question to ask itself: given the current presence of Interstate 40 and the eastern junction of it with US 281, if there were no bridge at the Pony Bridge site, would it be building one today?

  2. While it’s sad to see the old bridge is gonna change after all these years, it’s better than the alternative of them building a new bridge only to let pony bridge die. I feel that Part of the grant money should be used to preserve the history and visuals of the current bridge.

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