LEXINGTON, Okla. (AP) - Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Friday for two Oklahoma communities that are now separated by a 45-minute commute despite being less than a mile apart.
Highway officials closed the James C. Nance Bridge over the Canadian River last week after discovering several cracks in its truss beams. While it’s only nine-tenths of a mile between Fifth Street in Lexington and Canadian Avenue in Purcell, the shortest detour is 35 miles long.
“This bridge is a safety hazard and is at risk of collapse,” Fallin said. “Keeping it open would have threatened lives. It had to close. Unfortunately, that has created an economic hardship, not to mention a severe inconvenience, for the people of Lexington and Purcell.”
Under her emergency declaration, the state can speed up the bidding process to restore the bridge within a matter of months, rather than a year.
Fallin toured the bridge Friday with officials from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Office of Emergency Management.
Commuters living in one town who work in the other have seen dramatically increased commute times and fuel expenses. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles must take the same detours.
The state of emergency declaration also makes reimbursements of up to $100,000 available to Cleveland and McClain counties as well as Lexington and Purcell. Bus and ambulance services both qualify for reimbursement.
Transportation officials are partnering with transit agencies and funding shuttles between Lexington and Purcell with multiple runs throughout the day.
Under typical bidding practices, the state often takes about 160 days. With the emergency, it can be completed in three or four days.
Michael Patterson, director of the Transportation Department, said a bridge rehabilitation project usually takes over a year to complete, but Fallin believes local residents can’t wait that long.
“She has instructed us to speed that up by three times,” Patterson said. “We are doing everything we can to speed this process up and finish this project in a matter of months.”