This piece was part of a double truck piece in The Oklahoman Sunday edition, June 26, 2011. To see the PDF of this piece, with accompanying photographs and timeline, click here. View the other page here.
By: Brandon Goodwin
A bridge is not something motorists want to see through.
Yet that is a regular occurrence on the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway, a two-mile elevated highway through Oklahoma City that frequently drops coffee table-sized chunks of concrete from its deck, exposing naked rebar and the ground below.
Emergency crews rush to the bridge to repair these holes about 20 times a year, creating a quilt of patches designed to keep the bridge usable until it is replaced with a new section of highway next summer.
For years, motorists have raised concerns about the integrity of the expressway.
Oklahoma Transportation Department officials said the bridge has regular inspections and is safe.
“If there was any indication that the condition of the bridge was dangerous, we would not have traffic on the bridge,” Division Engineer Paul Green said.
But concerns about the bridge goo deeper than its surface.
The structure’s support beams are known as “fracture critical,” an outdated design technique that means if one support beam fails, the entire bridge section could collapse.
The I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, Minn., in 2007, killing 13 people, was a fracture critical structure.
Field Construction Engineer Anthony Echelle said the Crosstown Expressway bridge has 300 fracture critical points.
It was built to modern design standards when it opened in 1966, but this type of structural design was thrown out in the 1970s in favor of designs that offer secondary support beams.
The last incident concerning a fracture critical point on the Crosstown was in 1989.
Inspectors found the spot before it failed and closed the bridge until it was repaired.
Regular inspections also report corrosion and rusted beams.
Officials said issues concerning the safety of the bridge are addressed.
Other issues are deferred since the bridge’s days are numbered.
“We are doing everything to see that is is safe,” said Terri Angier, spokeswoman for the Oklahoman Transportation Department. “But not past the point of wasting taxpayer dollars.”
The structure will be replaced by a new section of Interstate 40 next summer that will be five blocks south of the current expressway.
The state spends more than $1 million a year on preventative maintenence of the roadway, Echelle said.
Costs of spot maintenance are cheaper than projected costs to redeck the bridge. Additionally, the major impact to traffic to overhaul a bridge that will close in a year is not necessary, Echelle said.
Some of the degradation of the bridge comes from high amounts of traffic. Currently, the bridge carries about 120,000 vehicles a day, 50,000 more than it was designed for.
The bridge also lacks shoulders, and offers little merging room.
“If you have a flat tire, there is little room to pull over and have car trouble,” Echelle said.
“Thats just another reason why we are eager to get traffic off that old bridge,” he said.
Every photographer has to have a long-tern project.
Thats what my photojournalism teacher tells me anyway. I agree.
This summer, I’ve chosen to document smalltown rodeos around rural Oklahoma. I’ve already begun the project, and can’t wait to do more.
During my orientation with the Oklahoman, where I’m interning this summer, many of the speakers told us to have long-term projects to work on, because its in-depth storytelling that makes news organizations valuable. The surface can be scratched by anyone; bloggers, facebookers, tweeters. Day-to-day storytelling happens by everyone online. But journalists have the resources to go beyond that, and expand on issues and themes important to its audience.
I need this storytelling practice because I haven’t worked on many in depth stories before. A broad topic like rodeos will need a focus, and if I can hone-in on one, and make some great images, I’ll certainly be getting somewhere.
I’m not sure what my focus is yet, but when I do, I’ll post and let you know.
For the time being, enjoy this halfway-terrible rodeo video, with Garth Brooks’ famous rodeo song.
I’m sitting at home safe, but I can’t say the same for Oklahoma journalists right now.
For the past three hours, i’ve been glued to local TV, Twitter, the Oklahoma City newspaper website, newsok.com, and Facebook keeping up with the movement of current tornadoes ravaging central Oklahoma.
I’m not the only one either.
The nation is glued to TV and computer screens, desperately scrambling to find new information and coverage of the storms. All the national news outlets are collecting photographs and video from people and reporters on the ground, publishing photographs of twisting tornadoes and debris.
Read articles about the storms:
The dedication of these journalists to cover storms in the midst of clear and present danger is one reason why journalism will not die. Journalism is directly saving the lives of several people who are listening in via radio or TV in these storm-stricken areas.
The Oklahoma City NBC affiliate station, KFOR, had their chopper in the middle of the storm, finding destroyed homes with families standing around with stunned looks painted on their faces. The chopper landed to check on them, and the family said they were listening in on the radio to KFOR’s broadcast and took shelter just at the right time. Everyone in their family was safe, except for a few cuts and bruises.
Without journalism, these people may not have received the information necessary to take shelter in time. These hardworking photojournalists and reporters use their own way of life-saving tactics, called information.
I know from this that I, as a storyteller, can learn so much from these individuals who drive, fly and run into danger to get information that is saving the lives of people across this state.
While I don’t necessarily want to be in the middle of a tornadic thunderstorm, I won’t hesitate if I’m called upon. Until then, I applaud the accomplishments of those journalists on the front lines of our homeland.
Entry #2 Summary: Telling stories and information-gathering, at its roots, takes courage and steel resolve. We are a service-based industry that deals in information.