Route 66 in the News
Preservationists Fight to Save Historic Oklahoma Bridge
CATOOSA, Okla. - State preservationists and Route 66 advocates are sweating the fate of a structurally deficient bridge built during the Great Depression.
The state Transportation Department plans to replace the 1936 steel truss span in a project slated for the 2012 federal fiscal year, said Randle White, an engineer for the department.
"There’s a lot of concern in the preservation community and in the heritage tourism community about the importance of that bridge and the overall Route 66 corridor,” said Melvena Heisch, deputy state historic preservation officer. "They are still looking at the alternatives right now because they know that it is indeed a bridge that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.”
At westbound State Highway 66 over the Verdigris River (Bird Creek), the structure is part of the "Twin Bridges.” Its eastbound sister span is 20 years younger. Just down the road is the Mother Road’s famous "Blue Whale” swimming hole.
"You have two major icons pretty close to each other,” said Jim Ross, a Route 66 historian who lives in Arcadia.
Archaeologist Robert Bartlett, director of the Transportation Department’s Cultural Resources Program, detailed preliminary plans for replacement of the bridge in a letter to Heisch dated December 2007, records show.
In the letter, Bartlett recognized the "historical significance” of the structure and welcomed further discussions with the State Historic Preservation Office about the matter.
"We always work with the local historical society,” White said. "What that outcome’s going to be, we’ll wait and see. The problem we have is that we have a bridge that basically is falling apart.”
‘A patchwork quilt’
Since January 2008, the Transportation Department has responded to at least a half-dozen emergencies for damage, such as holes in the bridge deck, White said. On Dec. 30, a trailer came loose from a truck and damaged a portion of the bridge.
"The top deck looks a little bit like a patchwork quilt in places where they’ve had to go in and do the emergency repairs,” Transportation Department spokeswoman Kenna Mitchell said.
Its 24-foot width is 4 feet narrower than its companion span, and with a limited clearance — 14 feet, 8 inches — the structure is prone to damage from oversized loads, White said.
Construction costs for a new bridge are an estimated $4 million, White said.
Ross wrote the book "Oklahoma Route 66” and is co-founder of "American Road Magazine.”
He said he has been encouraged in recent years by the Transportation Department’s increased awareness of historical structures, as well as cultural and local history.
"I do think there has been some movement in the right direction,” Ross said. "I just think there needs to be more of it.
"If a bridge can be made safe and made enhanced to stay in service, that’s what they should do, even if it costs more money than replacing the bridge. I realize from an engineering point of view that some bridges can’t be repaired. But to me that begs a new question: ‘Why do you let them get in that state of disrepair?’”
~Rhett Morgan, NewsOK.com