Oklahoma transportation boss optimistic deadline will be met

Tuesday, June 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. (AP) _ The state's transportation director says he is optimistic work crews can remove the barges and complete demolition work by Wednesday on the collapsed Interstate 40 bridge in eastern Oklahoma.

Gary Ridley made his remarks Monday as Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Mary Peters, head of the Federal Highway Administration, visited the site where 14 people died in the May 26 accident.

``We think that this is unusual. Government doesn't work that fast,'' Inhofe said.

Peters said she visited the site because she wanted to get a firsthand look and get the section of one of the state's busiest highways back in operation. She also said her agency is working closely with the Transportation Department to move quickly on the demolition and repairs.

On Wednesday, the state Transportation Commission will hold an emergency meeting to award the bridge reconstruction project. Regardless of the progress of demolition, the rebuilding work will begin at 6 p.m. that evening.

President Bush has committed $3 million to be used immediately as federal emergency relief funds. On Friday, the U.S. Senate passed a supplemental appropriation to provide the addition $12 million needed to repair the bridge.

That bill has not passed the House. Inhofe said the $12 million is contained in a $31.5 billion anti-terrorism bill that will need Bush's signature. Even if the president vetoes the bill, the bridge repair money will get through in some other bill, Inhofe said.

``What I'm going to do _ and I'm convinced this (reconstruction) will be over in 1,553 hours _ I will be on the Senate floor talking about how this will be a model for the U.S.,'' Inhofe said.

Ridley said the bridge is expected to be reopened in late August or early September. His agency initially estimated the project would take six months.