More cracks found in closed bridge in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Additional cracks have been found on a bridge in central Oklahoma that connects two towns, the state Department of Transportation announced Tuesday, noting the new problems are similar to those that led to a major bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007.

The 76-year-old James C. Nance Memorial Bridge, connecting the towns of Lexington and Purcell, has been closed since January after 10 cracks were found. The engineering team hired to repair the bridge had completed work on more than 260 potential flaws when workers discovered two new cracks had developed, said Mike Patterson, the transportation department’s executive director.

ODOT Chief Engineer Casey Shell said at Tuesday’s news conference that the new cracks are near what are known as gusset plates, which is the same area that failed during the Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007. Thirteen people were killed and more than 100 were injured.

“We wanted to make sure that these were reinforced and stiffened so we didn’t have that concern here in Oklahoma on our bridge,” Shell said.

The extra repair work is expected to cost an additional $1 million to $1.5 million, bringing the project’s total to about $15.5 million. Officials said it isn’t expected to delay the scheduled June 14 re-opening of the bridge.

The first new crack was discovered 10 days ago, followed by a second crack, Shell said.

John Kulicki, senior technical adviser for bridge engineering firm Modjeski and Masters, said he was surprised the bridge was continuing to crack while repairs were being made.

“We would have expected with the traffic off the bridge, the cracking would have stopped,” Kulicki said. “But it continued. And then as the temperature warms up, it still continued … that’s counterintuitive. Usually steel gets tougher as it gets warmer.”

The closure of the bridge has caused headaches for residents and businesses of the two towns. Normally, it takes about 5 minutes to drive between the communities, but the closure has upped that to 45 minutes.

“It’s a disappointment, but they’re doing all they can to repair them,” Purcell Register editor and publisher John D. Montgomery said of the cracks. “Hopefully, they can still meet their deadline to open.”

Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin announced that the U.S. Small Business Administration had denied her request for loans for businesses affected by the closure. The federal agency said they could not offer loans because the bridge was closed for maintenance, not because of a sudden event causing severe damage, such as a natural disaster.

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Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton .

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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