I-44 Belle Isle bridge becomes focus of transportation commission
Several piers of the I-44 Belle Isle bridge were stripped this year as part of an ongoing repair project. Crews found extensive interior damage not known about previously, which will require a new emergency project to repair. Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers emphasize that the bridge is safe for travel while work continues.
At their Monday, May 4 meeting, members of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission authorized the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to let a contract to bid for an emergency project to repair extensive deterioration on the I-44 Belle Isle bridge in Oklahoma City. During an ongoing rehabilitation project, a contractor working for ODOT uncovered much worse deterioration than expected on nearly half of the bridge’s 95 total piers. This prompted lane and ramp closures on the bridge beginning April 16.
A thorough evaluation was completed on all 95 piers, which were inspected for the deeper deterioration to determine the repairs needed for a long-term solution. The agency will solicit bids for an estimated $7 million project to address the most deteriorated piers with a new contract.
- The current rehabilitation project being performed by Restek, Inc. will continue as planned, focusing on the less deteriorated piers and is expected to be completed in early 2016.
- On April 24, Executive Director Mike Patterson issued an emergency declaration and tapped Sherwood Construction to perform an interim project to install steel reinforcements under several of the most deteriorated piers. This work is expected to be completed in mid-June.
- The upcoming long-term project will reconstruct the piers with the worst deterioration. The estimated time to complete this project will be determined once ODOT has a contract prepared for bid. The eastbound I-44 on-ramp from eastbound Northwest Expressway and the westbound I-44 off-ramp to Northwest Expressway will remain closed for the duration of this next project since some of the piers supporting the ramps are among those in need of extensive repairs.
Engineers estimate the work will preserve the structure for about 15 years and remove the bridge’s “structurally deficient” status.
The Belle Isle bridge was built in 1978 and carries more than 100,000 vehicles daily. Due to its length, unique angles and heavy traffic volume, the bridge is treated with an increased amount of salt during the winter. Over time, the combination of salt and water leaking though joints on the bridge’s surface caused major rebar and concrete deterioration on several piers supporting the bridge.
“We are certainly grateful that additional funding since 2006 has allowed ODOT to address much-needed improvements on hundreds of bridges. However, we knew decades ago that flat transportation funding and deferred maintenance would cause major problems on our highway system and now we’re seeing the full extent of that damage on bridges like this one,” Patterson said. “Without adequate investment in the preservation of our bridges, the state actually ends up paying more to make emergency repairs later.”
The emergency declaration for the Belle Isle bridge is just the latest in a series of three major bridge problems in just one month that have caused traffic delays and detours while emergency repairs were performed.
On March 27, the SH-83 bridge over the Kansas City Southern Railroad southeast of Poteau in LeFlore County was closed after ODOT workers uncovered deterioration underneath the structure while filing a pothole. The bridge closure forced a 60 mile highway detour through Arkansas. After repairs, the 78 year old bridge was reopened to traffic on April 29.
Also in late March, the US-377/SH-99 bridge over the Washita River south of Tishomingo in Johnston County was narrowed to one lane after an inspection revealed major deficiencies in the structure. Only after ODOT crews erected temporary supports and drastically reduced the speed limit was the highway reopened to two-lane traffic. The agency is expediting the design of a replacement for this more than 70 year old bridge, which connects Tishomingo and Madill in the growing Texoma region.
Since 2006, ODOT has been replaced or rehabilitated 945 highway bridges, but it will still take many years to catch up with the backlog of needed improvements. ODOT’s first Eight-year Construction Work Plan in 2003 contained only 220 bridge projects, while the 2015-2022 Eight-Year Plan includes 935 bridge replacement or major rehabilitation projects and addresses all remaining structurally deficient highway bridges.
TO READ the original press release about finding of the damage and lane closures, click http://www.ok.gov/triton/modules/newsroom/newsroom_article.php?id=277&article_id=15758