Oklahoma bridge's repair rating scrutinized

| 6/6/2002

According to a story in The Oklahoman, investigators are reviewing records that show the I-40 bridge in Webbers Falls, OK, was rated as likely in need of rehabilitation. Bridge inspections also show that drivers detouring around the bridge may be driving over a bridge likely in need of replacement.

The National Transportation Safety Board reportedly is looking into whether that rating may have played a role in the bridge's collapse, after a barge struck the bridge May 26, sending a 580-foot span into the Arkansas River. Fourteen were killed after their vehicles plunged into the murky water.

During a June 2001 inspection report, state inspectors gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 67. The bridge's substructure condition was termed "fair."

A bridge rated between 51 and 80 percent probably is in need of rehabilitation, the newspaper reported. A bridge rated 50 percent or less is considered in need of replacement.

ODOT's recommended detour around the bridge for eastbound drivers is to take State Highway 2 south from Warner, then east on State Highway 9, and north on U.S. 59 to I-40 near Sallisaw. Westbound drivers should turn north on State Highway 10 at mile marker 291, then take U.S. 64 west to Gore, and turn south on State Highway 100 to I-40.

The U.S. 59 bridge is rated at 36, but reconstruction has been going on for about a year and reportedly is about half finished. The bridge is estimated to be carrying about 10,000 vehicles a day because of the detour, more than double the 4,400 vehicles it normally carries daily, but has been deemed safe for the additional traffic. The U.S. 64 (SH 100) bridge has a 82 percent rating.

The Federal Highway Administration announced it has committed an initial $3 million in federal emergency relief funds to Oklahoma to rebuild the I-40 bridge. Members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation reportedly are expected to seek an additional $17 million.

The tugboat and barges piloted by William Joe Dedmon collided with the I-40 bridge after veering about 300 feet off course from the main channel. Dedmon alleges he "blacked out."

Federal investigators are awaiting results of health tests and toxicology reports on Dedmon to determine an official cause of the collision. The captain had slept for less than 10 hours the 41 and a-half hours preceding the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined.