Safety debated after last year's deadly bridge collapse

Sunday, May 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River has protection against wayward barges -- huge barrels filled with dirt and gravel in front of concrete piers.

The barrels guard only the bridge's north side against barges rushing downstream on the river's current.

But a year ago tomorrow, two barges pushed upstream by a towboat rammed an exposed piling on the bridge's south side. Fourteen people died when their vehicles plunged over the collapsed bridge into the water near Webbers Falls.

The incident has reopened debate about how bridges over waterways are protected. But so far, little has changed.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is reviewing pier safety on all 11 of its bridges on the Arkansas River, the state's only commercially navigable waterway. The Legislature last week created a panel to advise O-DOT on barge safety issues.

The National Transportation Safety Board is not yet halfway through its investigation, which will include safety proposals.