Oklahoma’s longest state-owned bridges may soon see a new life thanks to a proposed complete replacement of the roadway. The Tulsa district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released public notice Wednesday that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is seeking permits to replace the Willis Bridge across Lake Texoma.
The bridge, located on U.S. Highway 377 and Oklahoma State Highway 99, crosses the lake and connects Grayson County near Gordonville to Marshall County, Oklahoma. Officials with ODOT said the cost of the estimated $50 million project will be split with the Texas Department of Transportation.
“We are still working on right of way and utilities on it and we don’t expect to let it (to bid) until July,” ODOT spokeswoman Annahlyse Meyer said.
In the public notice, the USACE said the purpose of the project is to “replace and widen a structurally deficient bridge over Lake Texoma.”
“The overall purpose of this work is to comply with federal safety standards in order to provide safe and reliable transportation on SH 99 between the cities of Madill, Oklahoma and Whitesboro, Texas,” the report says.
The new bridge will be located just east of the existing structure in order to minimize the impact to local wildlife and the lake itself. This will allow the existing bridge to remain open during the construction phase of the project.
The new bridge will be wider than the current structure and feature 12-foot lanes lined with 10-foot shoulders on each side. The bridge will be about the same length and extend for 5,462 feet, just over a mile, across the lake.
As a part of mitigating the impact of the new bridge, ODOT plans to build 22 new fish habitat structures in the waters of the lake. These structures will be constructed by crushing the existing piers into piles of rubble and placed under the water.
“Fish habitat structures have been shown to be a successful means of enhancing aquatic habitat by providing fish cover, structure, spawning habitat, and as an attachment surface for phytoplankton and submerged vascular plants,” the USACE report says. “Fish habitat structures such as these provide overall habitat lift for impounded waters, as well as enhanced recreation activities for fishermen.”
The project is not expected to adversely affect any of the endangered species that call the area home. In studies conducted in 2016, the USACE found that there would be no impact to the red knot and whooping crane and little adverse effects to the interior least tern and piping plover. The impact to the American burrowing beetle being determined in a separate impact assessment.
Following the release to bid in July, Meyer said she expects the contract for the project to be discussed and possibly awarded during ODOT’s meeting in August. While this may seem sudden to some, Meyer said the department has been pursuing this project for at least two years.
“What you are doing is catching this at the tail end of a lot of work,” she said.
The bridge is named after the community of Willis, which was originally located near the site of the modern bridge. The community was one of the settlements that was abandoned in the 1940s and inundated with water with the construction of Lake Texoma.
Clay Barnett, executive director of the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he did not know a lot about the project, as it was primarily being organized by Oklahoma. However, he said the bridge was the second busiest of the four main arteries across Lake Texoma or the Red River in Grayson County with 2,680 vehicles using it each day. This was a distant second behind U.S. Highway 75, which sees more than 30,500 vehicles cross it each day.
As a part of the permitting process, the USACE is currently putting the project out for public comment, where residents and stakeholders can bring up any concerns regarding the project.