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Closures necessary on I-44 Belle Isle bridge after more than expected deterioration discovered

Friday, April 24, 2015

April 23, 2015
PR# 15-021

     Oklahoma Department of Transportation crews and its contractor are discovering much more than they bargained for during a routine bridge rehabilitation project. The I-44 Belle Isle bridge in Oklahoma City, built in 1978, is currently undergoing a bridge rehabilitation project that involves inspecting the bridge deck and piers and chipping away any old concrete to prepare the bridge piers for sandblasting and new concrete.

     It was during the execution of this step where crews discovered extensive damage to two of the piers so far. This prompted lane and ramp closures between Pennsylvania Ave. and Western Ave. on Friday, April 16.

     As part of the rehabilitation process, the first step is for crews to aggressively chip away at the concrete to better prepare the bridge for improvements. Under a façade of separated concrete, which was not visible during routine inspections, major rebar and concrete deterioration on two piers emerged. Damage to the piers was caused by water and salt over time. This particular bridge receives more salt in the winter than most due to its length, unique angle and traffic volume. The damage prompted engineers to narrow I-44 to two lanes in both directions between Penn and Western and close the eastbound I-44 on-ramp from eastbound Northwest Expressway and the westbound I-44 off-ramp to Northwest Expressway and begin extensive repairs to the two piers.

     Currently, crews are adding steel supports to two of the piers. Plans are to have this work completed by early May and open the closed lanes to traffic. However, engineers are evaluating additional piers and anticipate more could need repairs which could extend or cause additional closures. There are a total of 95 piers on the entire bridge, all are being evaluated. These repairs to the severely damaged piers are an adequate but interim fix. The current project will be completed early next year. Concurrently, emergency projects are being designed and will be expedited to provide the permanent fix.

     Engineers are confident the bridge is safe while the two piers are being addressed and would close the bridge should any findings reveal otherwise. The bridge is being monitored daily.

     Crews will continue to work under the bridge on the other piers as originally planned. This bridge is not currently scheduled for replacement in the Eight-Year Construction Work Plan.

     The current rehabilitation project, which started in early March is estimated to be finished by early 2016. Last September 2014, Restek, Inc. was selected to work on this estimated $3 million contract. This bridge carries nearly 100,000 vehicles per day.

     Decades of flat state funding for transportation led to the rapid deterioration of structures like the Belle Isle bridge, as resources were simply not available for regularly scheduled preventative maintenance and asset preservation projects to extend the life of highways and bridges.

     Since 2006, dedicated revenue to the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund has allowed ODOT to rehabilitate or completely replace more than 945 highway bridges by the end of 2014. Another 935 major bridge projects are scheduled in ODOT’s 2015-2022 Eight-Year Plan, including all remaining structurally deficient highway bridges with planned regular preventative maintenance as to not be in this same position in the future.

     Even with the ROADS fund and an aggressive bridge program, overcoming the state’s backlog of highway needs for both rural and urban areas continues to be a challenge as major bridges like the I-44 Belle Isle bridge are nearing or already have exceeded their expected life span and lack a funding solution for future replacement.

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This eastbound I-44 Belle Isle pier between Pennsylvania Ave. and Western Ave. is one of two piers currently receiving a temporary, steel beam support that will add strength to the bridge.

This eastbound I-44 Belle Isle pier between Pennsylvania Ave. and Western Ave. is one of two piers currently receiving a temporary, steel beam support that will add strength to the bridge. Crews discovered extensive damage during a current rehabilitation project.


(Editors and News Directors: For more information call the ODOT Media & Public Relations Division at 405-521-6000.)

Last Modified on Oct 23, 2020
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