When the Purcell-Lexington Bridge officially opens Friday morning, two faces will be absent.

It is unfortunate the men most responsible for fast-tracking the bridge replacement project are no longer at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

They are J. Michael Patterson, the department’s former director. He retired in April, ending a 40-year career with ODOT.

The other is Casey Shell, ODOT’s chief engineer. He left ODOT earlier this year and was replaced by Brian Taylor.

I well recall the very cold day in February 2014 when they held an outdoor press conference on the Purcell end of the troubled James C. Nance Memorial Bridge.

There was snow, a bit of ice and a strong north wind. And Shell carefully explained the bridge was in danger of collapse just from the weight of snow and ice.

While residents on both sides of the divide coped with a long detour through Norman, consultants determined recent repairs to the structure that involved welding were the culprit.

The contractor who built the bridge in the 1930s had used a rare manganese alloy steel that was prone to cracking due to welding.

While crews worked feverishly to install plates to take pressure off the compromised alloy supports, Patterson and Shell were hard at work to speed the construction of a new bridge.

With the blessings of the governor and federal government, the timeline for planning and constructing a new bridge was drastically shortened. 

On Sept. 5, 2017, the state awarded the contract for the new bridge. Less than 23 months later, that bridge will open Friday.

What Patterson and Shell accomplished to benefit the people of Purcell and Lexington was unheard of.

 I doubt we will see it again.

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