- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

PURCELL, Okla. (AP) - Two central Oklahoma communities are celebrating the planned reopening Friday of a bridge linking them after the four-and-a-half month closure took travel time between the two from 5 minutes to 45, turning routines into headaches and hurting businesses in both places.

Restaurants, stores and other businesses in Lexington and Purcell are planning special discount sales and menu items to celebrate the restoration of the James. C. Nance bridge between the tightly intertwined cities, where many people live in one and work in the other.

“We’re really going to try to welcome back those customers on both sides,” said Justina Reaves, executive director of The Heart of Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, which includes both cities, Lexington and Purcell.

The 76-year-old bridge, closed since Jan. 31 for emergency repairs after 10 cracks and 260 potential flaws were found, is scheduled to reopen Friday afternoon. To celebrate, the chamber is hosting a ceremony featuring Gov. Mary Fallin, State Rep. Lisa Billy, State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, Department of Transportation officials and others.

For some businesses, the customers will not be returning a moment too soon.

Courtney Holmes, who works at her mom’s Railhead Diner, just steps from the bridge on the Purcell side, said business dropped by 50 to 80 percent because of the closure.

“It came close to putting us out of business,” said Holmes, 21, who had moved from Florida in January to help her mom at the restaurant, just days before the bridge was closed.

The restaurant is offering a special prime rib sandwich on Friday to commemorate the reopening, Holmes said.

Businesses in the two communities got creative during the past several months to help each other, Reaves said. For example, Rodney’s Pizza Place in Purcell, which never offered delivery, started delivering to Lexington twice a week, while an insurance agent in Purcell picked up milk, medication and other necessities for clients in Lexington.

“It’s disrupted lives, and I guess bottom line is it’s made Lexington and Purcell appreciate each other a lot more, and everybody appreciates that bridge,” said Daryl Covey, a retired National Weather Service meteorologist who was getting his hair cut at a barber shop in Lexington.

The bridge was listed, along with 413 other Oklahoma bridges, in a 2013 Associated Press review of spans that were both structurally deficient and fracture critical.

After the Oklahoma Department of Transportation closed the bridge, repair crews had hoped to open it by Easter - but more cracks appeared, pushing the completion date back to June. Additional cracks were also found in April, but officials said then that it would not impact the reopening date.

“Obviously it’s been difficult,” said Reaves. “The majority have stayed very, very positive and worked together. We’ve made it.”


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