The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has issued official alternate routes around a collapsed I-40 bridge in eastern Oklahoma as rescue workers continue to recover victims. The highway is a major truck route that carries about 20,000 vehicles daily.
The Webber Falls Bridge, 35 miles west of the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, was struck by a tugboat transporting two barges Sunday, sending a 500-foot section of the bridge into the Arkansas River. As many as 15 vehicles, including two tractor-trailers, are believed to have plunged into the river after the collapse. As the search for bodies continued Tuesday, nine persons are confirmed dead in the accident.
ODOT said all vehicles traveling east should take State Highway 2 south from Warner, then turn east on State Highway 9, and north on U.S. 59 to I-40 near Sallisaw. Westbound travelers should turn north on State Highway 10, west on U.S. 64, then south on State Highway 100 to I-40.
The detour for vehicles traveling east reportedly adds about 60 miles to a trip and adds about five miles for vehicles traveling west. Officials say long-haul truckers traveling east could experience up to two-hour delays as they detour around the bridge.
Truckdriver and OOIDA board member Kenneth Becker of Oklahoma City suggests truckers avoid the expected delays by rerouting around the area from Oklahoma City to Tulsa on I-44. Take U.S. 412 on to Springdale, AR, then south on I-540 back to I-40 in Fort Smith, AR. "It's going to be chaotic until they get the bridge repaired," Becker said.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating estimates it will take six months before the bridge span is replaced.
-- Keith Goble, staff writer