The 23rd Street bridge in west Tulsa will be closed to all traffic for eight months while three spans of the bridge are replaced and several piers are reconfigured and improved, ODOT officials said Friday.
ODOT Division Manager Randle White said the $13.5 million project is expected to begin this summer but that ODOT will not know when the bridge will be closed until the contract is awarded in the spring.
“We certainly understand it is going to be an inconvenience to the public,” White said. “So we want to give the contractor an incentive to get done sooner.”
The project includes replacing three spans of the 23rd Street bridge; reconfiguring and adding crash pads to several of the bridge’s piers, and replacing the ramp bridge that runs from Interstate 244 to 21st Street. It also includes work on the 1,000-foot-long 23rd Street bridge and the 700-foot-long I-244 ramp bridge.
The 23rd Street bridge, built in 1962, is on ODOT’s list of deficient bridges and is scheduled for replacement, White said. The crash pads are being installed on several bridge piers that were hit by derailed trains.
“The last two years we have had to have four repair projects” on the piers, White said.
City Councilor Jeannie Cue on Thursday said she was told the project was put on hold after she voiced concerns about the closure’s impact on traffic, public safety and businesses.
“This (planning) has been going on for two years and I found out by luck,” Cue said. “The problem is with all this industry and all of these workers here, if there is an emergency, how would emergency responders even get here?”
White said late Friday that he was unaware of the project’s being put on hold.
“We certainly are willing to listen to any suggestions that the city may have,” White said. “But we have designers who have looked at this. The problem is when you are reconfiguring the piers you don’t have anything to support the beams.”
White said the overall project is scheduled to be complete in no more than 580 days, or 19 months. But White stressed that the 23rd Street bridge would be closed to traffic no more than 240 days.
The bridge, which rises above railroad tracks to connect Southwest Boulevard to the east and 21st Street to the west, links businesses big and small to the rest of the city.
A 2014 city of Tulsa study found that 15,800 vehicles cross the bridge every day.
EMSA spokeswoman Kelli Bruer said the agency has not been informed of ODOT’S plans but that closure of the bridge would not affect response times.
“We would have to change our deployment plan,” she said, “but we can make a change that would show no change in response times.”
Major employers on the west side of the bridge include Holly Refinery, Sooner Emergency Services, Magellan Midstream, AAON, Inc., Rogers Galvanizing and Covanta Energy.
Covanta is the company that turns the city’s trash into renewable energy after it has been delivered to the plant on South Yukon Avenue.
Matthew Newman, Covanta’s business manager, said a couple hundred trucks a day dump garbage at the facility. The plant is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a week.
“When we heard about ODOT’s proposed work on the bridge here on 23rd Street, first and foremost we thought about our employees’ safety” and the safety of other workers in the area, Newman said.
Newman said closing the bridge to all traffic would have an effect on businesses in the area.
“It would definitely detrimentally impact traffic to and from our facility, but it would also impact all of the other industries over here,” Newman said.
Bill Inhofe, owner of Sooner Emergency Services on west 21st Street, said he’s worried the closure would hurt his business.
“I’d just like to see them work with us. It’s hard enough to run a business without cutting off a main artery (of traffic),” he said. “I would figure they could work something out.”
County Commissioner Karen Keith, whose district includes west Tulsa, said she hopes the project can be done with as little impact on traffic as possible.
“I think between ODOT and the city of Tulsa they are taking another look at how they do this project to make sure emergency vehicles can get in where they need to go,” Keith said. “So I think they are looking at some alternative plans.”
Keith noted that closing the bridge to traffic would leave few alternate routes, none of which would be ideal. Drivers choosing to head into downtown on 17th Street, for example, would likely have to stop to let the train pass.
“I was told by (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) that on any given day 41 different trains are going to go through there,” Keith said.
Paul Zachary, director of the city’s Engineering Services Department, said the city has been aware of the bridge replacement project for a while but that he only recently learned of ODOT’s plan to shut the bridge down to all traffic.
“With our past work with ODOT, I am optimistic that between ODOT, BNSF, emergency responders and the stakeholders on the west side of Highway 75, a solution that includes design, construction sequencing and operational modifications can be reached that will mitigate the adverse consequences of the new bridge construction,” Zachary said.