Oklahoma Boosts Bridge Safety to Avoid 2002’s I-40 Disaster

KTUL - March 29, 2024 5:37 am

Since the I-40 bridge collapse in 2002, every rail and highway bridge in Oklahoma is now built with self-protection steel drums that are designed to keep barges from hitting the bridge itself.

On May 26, 2002, 14 people died when a barge rammed into an I-40 bridge in Webbers Falls, collapsing it.

The accident report concluded that the captain of the barge had a sudden loss of consciousness and that the accident caused around $30 million worth of damage.

“That was a catastrophic event for us. And we did have to look at all of our bridges across the state because at that point in history, or that point in time, ODOT had a lot of structurally deficient bridges,” said T.J. Gerlach a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT).

Gerlach says that after the I-40 bridge collapse, they went back and added extra protection to Oklahoma river crossing bridges.

“Really large steel drums that are buried in front of the piers and they’re filled with either concrete or some other material that’s packed into them. And that helps protect the piers,” said Gerlach.

The piers are the columns that support the bridge.

“There’s also lighting on most of these pier protections as well as the bridges themselves. And that helps guide the barge pilots through the spans on the waterway,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach says this added protection would prevent something like what happened in 2002 from happening again.

“The barge or the tugboat or whatever would strike that pier protection, it would strike those gigantic steel and concrete pieces in the water before it would hit the bridge itself,” said Gerlach.


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