ODOT Executive Director Tim Gatz opened and closed the half hour ceremony that ended with a ribbon cutting and a salute from the OU Ruf/Neks to officially open the new James C. Nance bridge across the Canadian River between Purcell and Lexington last Friday morning.
The new four-lane super bridge also features a protected walk or bicycle path that has railing from the original bridge constructed in 1938.
Gatz, who is the Secretary of Transportation as well as ODOT’s Executive Director, welcomed the large gathering of citizens from both communities and introduced the eight people who made brief remarks during the event in the middle of the bridge between the two towns.
Former Purcell Mayor Ron Fishburn, who was five years old in 1938 for the opening of the original bridge, now has witnessed the opening of two spans over the river.
He spoke along with Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa J. Billy, Transportation Commissioner TW Shannon, Purcell Mayor Ted Cox, Lexington Mayor David Adams, State Senators Paul Scott and Mary Boren and State Rep. Sherrie Conley, all of whom made brief remarks.
Scott read a senate proclamation and Gatz brought the celebration to a close with his final comments about the bridge and the entire project.
“To have accelerated this major infrastructure project in only three years and completed construction in less than two years is a major engineering, planning and construction accomplishment,” Gatz said.
The speakers all said this day was a day to celebrate the quick and professional work of not only ODOT on the project but the construction project manager Webber Construction and all the workers that had a hand in completing the construction ahead of schedule.
Cox said the project, “was not without sacrifices by both communities” but said Lexington and Purcell have a “great partnership.”
Adams thanked the Webber construction workers.
“They were out there in the hottest of days and the coldest of days,” Adams said. “This is one community. We depend on one another.”
The bridge was closed in 2014 after welding on the manganese material made the bridge almost in danger of collapsing under its own weight.
For four months area residents had to make the 45-minute commute around through Norman to get from one town to the other.
Wadley’s EMS set up a satellite station in Lexington. Banks did the same thing. Businesses suffered.
“It was a terrible ordeal but we weathered the storm,” Conley said. “It’s amazing that ODOT got the job done so quickly and so beautifully.
“What would normally take 10 years was accomplished in five. It’s amazing,” she said.
Purcell police, fire and city employees had golf carts to transport citizens to the middle of the bridge for the ceremony and back after the event came to a close.
Shannon called the day “a momentous occasion”.
“Kudos and accolades to the people of this community and ODOT,” Shannon continued. “The bridge is a connecting and uniting addition that is something the entire state can be proud of. The bridge connects the communities and the commerce they generate. Congratulations.
“Oklahoma has replaced more structurally deficient bridges in the past 10 years than any state in the nation,” Shannon confirmed.