BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Before a 1951 Chevrolet Pickup was a classic antique, it was just an old truck and I had one. It had belonged to my grandfather who had passed away not long before my 13th birthday. We had cattle and all five kids did whatever was needed to help Mom and Dad. As our older brothers and sister went away to college, my younger brother, Doug, and I took up the slack.
Dad was a Vo-Ag teacher and often had to work with his students on their projects and visit with their families and do all the things for farmers in the community that make ag teachers special people. During the late fall and winter, the sun often went down before Dad would make it home so Doug and I would put out hay and range cubes for the cattle while there was still daylight.
On one snowy day, we got home from school knowing that Dad would be late so we loaded a couple of sacks of cubes and several bales of hay into the back of the old pickup to feed the cattle. Doug drove while I broke bales in the back and tossed them over the side of the pickup bed. It was really unavoidable that the pickup slid a little while we were feeding and once Doug took an opportunity to “cut a donut” in the snow.
After the cattle had been fed, I dropped Doug off at the house so that I could go take care of my show steer. Then, with all chores done, I returned to the hillside pasture with the pickup and spent several minutes cutting my own “donuts” in the snow from one end of the pasture to the other. Sure enough, it was pretty late when Dad got home so he did not have an opportunity to check the cattle until early the next morning.
Doug and I were eating breakfast the next morning when Dad came back to the house from the pasture and asked with some degree of agitation, “Who in ‘Sam Hill’ has been cutting donuts in the pasture?” Now Doug being a good boy and unaware of my escapades, admitted that he was the culprit. I was stunned that he admitted the error of his ways so readily and inadvertently accepted the blame for what was mostly my transgression. I could have corrected him, but didn’t come forward with the pertinent information. I did not tell a lie, but I did not tell the whole truth.
Currently, the US 77 Purcell-Lexington Bridge over the South Canadian River and the Heartland Flyer railroad track is in the news. The bridge was shut down by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) in January even to pedestrian traffic because it “could collapse under its own weight.” ODOT spokesmen had reported that the bridge had developed 17 to 22 cracks and estimated that the repair would cost approximately $5.1 Million. Bids were sought and one contractor’s bid of just over the estimated amount was rejected because of a technicality. Another bidder was awarded a contract in excess of $10 Million with a $2500 per hour incentive that could make the bridge repair cost much more.
Because bridges are required to be inspected at a minimum of every two years, I was alarmed that this bridge could deteriorate in a two year period to the point that it could collapse. I had visited Minneapolis not long after the 2007 collapse of the I-35 truss bridge over the Mississippi River and saw the resulting damage first hand. In an attempt to discover whether the US 77 bridge was damaged by seismic activity or by a heavy load, I requested copies of the inspection reports. What I received back was information that alarmed me. Not that ODOT was withholding information, it just wasn’t telling the whole story in the absence of direct questions.
As facts unfold, it appears that in January 2013 before ODOT spent $1.2 Million Dollars for bridge rehabilitation, the bridge had NO cracks. A part of the rehabilitation contract that began on April 15, 2013, resulted in more than 200 welds in a manganese alloy support beam. That contract was a 150 day or five month contract that should have been completed by its own terms in the fall of 2013. In a bizarre twist, ODOT now admits that the manganese support beam stretching the entire length of the 7/10 mile long bridge which should never have been welded received over 200 welds and each weld that was supposed to strengthen the bridge actually undermined the stability of the structure and weakened the bridge to a dangerous condition.
In short, ODOT inadvertently paid a contractor $1.2 Million to damage a bridge and made it necessary to spend $10 Million plus on a bridge that will have a life of no more than ten years before it will be replaced with a new $40 Million bridge, all the while leaving Oklahoma taxpayers to foot the bill. Additional information will come to light when the right questions are asked.
In the 1970’s on that hillside pasture covered with circular pickup tracks, it wasn’t long before Doug learned the extent of the damage and did not hesitate to correct and qualify his earlier admission. Shortly, our parents learned the truth and the whole truth. The taxpayers of the state of Oklahoma deserve the same from ODOT.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as a State Representative. If there is anything that I can do to assist you, please call me at 405-557-7401 or eMail me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov. I look forward to hearing from you soon.