When major flooding washed out the bridge and culverts in the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla., in May, the executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the Cherokee Nation, Michael Lynn, knew the department had to do something fast.
Lynn said the bridge and half of Bald Hill Road were affected, and it covered a wide region — including a job corps training center, the ceremonial pow wow grounds and a housing addition.
“Our Cherokee national holiday is Labor Day weekend,” Lynn said. “It’s a huge event. Thousands and thousands of Cherokee citizens come in, and part of the celebration includes the pow wow grounds. We knew we needed to get that road open before Labor Day.”
Lynn had heard about Fast Cast Bridges and thought it may be a good fit. “I knew we needed to do something fast because of the sensitivity of the road and the timeline,” he said.
The manufacturer is based in Oklahoma, about an hour and a half east of Tahlequah. “The project was a three-part partnership between Cherokee Nation, Cherokee County and the Fast Cast manufacturer.”
After the project was designed and engineered, it was determined the partners needed to replace what was there with a 26-foot-by-40-foot-by-12-foot high bridge structure. Previously, the bridge consisted of three 8-foot metal culverts.
“So we sized the bridge considerably higher and larger than before,” Lynn said.
Days versus months
Lynn explained the installation process for the new bridge. He said they began setting the steel hollow frames on Aug. 19 and then pumped it full of concrete on Aug. 22. The contractor placed backfill on Aug. 25 before placing the rock for a temporary driving surface on Aug. 28. The road opened on Aug. 31.
Lynn said the holiday celebration began Thursday of that week, which was Sept. 1, so officials opened the bridge and road in time.
“We were able to meet the deadline and utilized the bridge with literally thousands of vehicles traveling on it over the weekend,” Lynn said.
So it took literally days versus the months a standard span bridge takes to build.
“We recently completed a standard span bridge in a different area and that took about nine months,” he said.
Lynn reported he’d visited a couple of other projects before the Bald Hill Road project to get an idea of how the process would go and the Cherokee Nation’s project was one of the larger structures Fast Cast had built at the time. Lynn said smaller structures like the ones he’d visited could literally be completed in a day.
“Due to the size, we couldn’t do that. They started setting the structure Friday and pumped concrete Monday. These small structures were literally built and pumped concrete in a single day.”
The manufacturing process started weeks before with all the manufacturing done off-site at the Glenpool, Okla., location. Trucks then brought it to the site, where cranes off-loaded it. Everything was bolted together.
“This could be done by non-skilled bridge builders. A lot of county employees are putting these together in other areas,” Lynn said. “Once it’s put together, they pump in the concrete.”
Lynn said after the holiday, project partners went back and paved the road. That’s the aspect that the county helped with, according to Lynn.
“Cherokee Nation paid for the asphalt, and the county brought their crew in to pave and stripe the road. We worked closely with the county commissioner,” he said.
County Commissioner for District Three Cliff Hall credited the Cherokee Nation. He said when the major flooding happened they didn’t receive any help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the cost was high.
“It was too big for the county to fund,” Hill said. “The Cherokee Nation wanted the Fast Cast Bridge, so that’s what we did.”
Hill said the county helped block the road so workers could finish setting the bridge in place before county workers paved the road afterward.
“We had minimal man-hours and any costs we incurred the Cherokee Nation paid back,” he said. “We partner with them all the time. We work hand-in-hand with their roads department on projects within 14 counties. They actually help us out more than the state.”
Cost and concerns
Lynn was asked if he had any concerns about thousands traveling across the bridge and temporary road.
He said he didn’t have any qualms. “They used high early strength concrete that sets quicker. We tested all the concrete, and we were extremely comfortable with all aspects.”
The cost for a Fast Cast Bridge is more expensive than a standard bridge, according to Lynn, but the time you’re saving by building a Fast Cast should be considered.
“It can be more cost-effective if you factor in the time,” he said.
The Cherokee Nation didn’t have a final cost yet, but the estimate is between $900,000 and $1,000,000.
Lynn said the Bald Hill Road project was “100% an emergency. There is an alternate route to the training center and the housing addition, but it was several miles out of the way, so the time-cost factor applies there too with having to drive it twice a day.”
“It was urgent and critical to get it fixed as quickly as we could,” Lynn said.
Another Fast Cast Bridge project is in the works for the Cherokee Nation in the western part of Cherokee County that officials hope will begin in late winter or early spring.
“We were that impressed with the first project we’ve already planned to do another,” he said.
Lynn cautioned though that it’s not a solution for every case. “It’s not going to be perfect for every situation; there are definitely situations it won’t work for, but it was an extremely good candidate for these projects.”
However, he said Fast Cast is definitely something other municipalities should consider. The manufacturer is in Oklahoma, but it has shipped the structures all over. “Folks should definitely contact (Premier Steel Services) and at least talk about it and check out the video,” Lynn said.