Demolition continues as contractors ready for repairs

Friday, June 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. (AP) _ Demolition continued at the collapsed interstate bridge Thursday as the construction contractor mobilized its forces for a sprint against a tight deadline to rebuild the span.

The contractor, Gilbert Central Inc. of Texas, has not yet begun construction on the eastern Oklahoma Interstate 40 bridge, which collapsed last month after two barges slammed into its piers.

Only a Gilbert surveyor was on site Thursday, a day after the clock on the 57-day contract for reopening the bridge to traffic began ticking.

Gilbert, which won the contract Wednesday, will begin building the new bridge in four to six days, said Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineer Pete Byers.

``The contractor is headquartered in Fort Worth,'' Byers said. ``If you don't know if you're going to get a job, then there's not a lot you can until you find out if you got the job.''

``They're mobilizing. You just don't see it,'' Byers told reporters allowed to view the site where 14 people died May 26 after their cars plunged off the bridge into the Arkansas River below.

On Thursday, demolition crews continued clearing what's left of the crumbled concrete and broken steel, largely on top of the barges and on the bottom of the river.

Four cranes lifted chunks amid a soundtrack of grumbling backhoes and bulldozers. The debris removed so far, likely thousands of tons, is piled on a five-acre site on the river's west bank, waiting to be trucked or floated away.

Demolition work was to be completed by Tuesday, but maybe sooner, as those contractors stand to receive $50,000 daily bonuses for an early finish, said Bruce Taylor, ODOT's chief engineer.

Gilbert won the construction contract with a $10.9 million bid set to a 57-day schedule. The company is to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet that mid-August deadline for reopening the bridge to vehicle traffic.

Under the unusual contract, the company will be paid an extra $6,000 for every hour the bridge is opened before the deadline, but it will also be fined $6,000 an hour for tardiness.

ODOT had required a 71-day maximum for bidders, to ensure the roadway's reopening by Labor Day.

Construction will begin on the west side of the bridge and move toward the still-standing roadway in the center, said Byers, one of three experienced ODOT engineers charged with ensuring that the speedy construction meets regulations.

Taylor said engineers again inspected the remaining bridge Thursday to ensure its structural integrity. It will remain in use after Gilbert replaces the 500-feet of roadway that fell after the crash.

The barges that hit the bridge, owned by Magnolia Marine Transport Co., are resting along the bank just south of the bridge. There, a backhoe is removing broken concrete and twisted steel from their decks.

Once the clutter is removed, forensic workers are to examine the dented barges for evidence of how the collision happened. Then, Magnolia of Mississippi can take them out of state, officials said.