Inspector finds problems on bridge between Purcell, Lexington

The James C. Nance bridge connecting Purcell and Lexington is closed to certain types of traffic after bridge inspectors found cracking underneath the bridge.

An inspector was under the U.S. Highway 77 bridge over the Canadian River when he found cracking on a truss, Larry Clore, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said. Engineers then limited vehicle traffic to only vehicles under five tons.

That included fire trucks, ambulances and school buses.

That limit has since been raised to 16 tons, after inspectors re-calculated weight limits.

There was no imminent danger, and the limits were imposed in an abundance of caution, Clore said.

Lexington's police chief says she's afraid it wouldn't take much to cause a problem.

"If just the right truck, with just the right weight were to cross, the bridge structurally could have some failure there," Deana Allen said.

She says since the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has jurisdiction over the bridge, it's tricky enforcing the weight limit. Still, she said officers were stopping trucks who were clearly over the limit. One trucker's excuse?

"There was one driver today that told the officer that he did not want to travel to highway 9 and divert, so he opted to ignore the signs and come on across," Allen said.

The nearest bridge is some distance away, and would add about an hour to a trip.

Still, the extra time isn't worth the risk, Allen says.

"I would not want a friend, a family member, anyone, to be behind someone who made a bad choice to disobey what ODOT feels is important, to take that chance to cross and have something happen," Allen said.

Crews will continue to inspect the bridge this week. If no other problems are found, a repair plan will be put in place. The bridge was declared "structurally deficient" in 2012, Clore said.

The bridge was originally built in 1938 and is about a mile long.