Okay No Longer — Rhys’ Pieces

The Jefferson Highway was one of America’s earliest highway systems. It connected New Orleans Louisiana to Winnipeg, Canada about a decade before the federal numbered highway system was created. Over time, it was supplanted by other highways (much like Route 66) but it still enjoys enthusiasm from dedicated fans and communities that take pride in […]

Okay No Longer — Rhys’ Pieces

Historic Jefferson Highway Bridge in Okay Collapses

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Century-old through truss bridge gives way after center pier crumbles. Future of last standing truss bridge remains open.

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OKAY, OK- At this time last year, the Jefferson Highway Bridge, spanning the Verdigris River at Okay, in Oklahoma, was being written up as the first Endangered TRUSS Bridge article in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, reincarnating the original TRUSS Awards that was created by the late James Baughn for bridgehunter.com.   It finished tied for fifth with two other bridges in the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the category of Endangered Truss. The bridge appeared to have some hope although one of the two standing Parker through trusses is hanging by a thread due to a crumbling center pier.

That crumbling center pier may have put the last nails in the coffin for the bridge, as we fast forward to the present.

During the early morning hours of February 22-23rd, it took only a half minute for the through truss span to finally give out, taking with it the outer pony truss approach span. The bridge collapse is symbolic for it happened one day before its 100th anniversary of the infamous bridge collapse- ironically involving the same span- during the time of its construction. Winds from a storm blew down the span into the Old Channel of the Verdigris River, killing three people that were on the bridge. That bridge span was later rebuilt and opened to traffic later that year, incorporating it into the second oldest highway in the US, the Jefferson Highway, which opened seven years earlier and connected Winnepeg, Canada to New Orleans and Dallas.

With the latest collapse involving the bridge span, which was built by a Tulsa-based bridge building company, chances of rebuilding the bridge, which had been abandoned for over two decades, is close to zero. The only chance to save the last standing through truss span, would have to be done by lifting the span off the crumbling pier and relocating it to a different location on land. But with the finances and questions involving the stability of the standing truss span, chances of salvaging it are slim. According to information by Tim Alexander, who together with Payden Metzger have provided photos of the collapsed bridge, there is no word from the mayor of Okay regarding the future of the remaining standing truss span.

The collapse of the Okay Bridge should serve as a reminder that historic bridges require maintenance just as much as a original bridge. If a bridge has as much value as the bridge in Okay, or any other historic bridge, then it should be repurposed with the goal of maintaining it for future use. In the case of the Okay Bridge, years of abandonment may have doomed it to removal. While there may be a chance to salvage the last standing span, the question at this point is: Is it worth it?

A gallery of photos can be found here. As mentioned before, Tim Alexander took the on ground shots shortly after the collapse. Payden Metzger did the drone shots. Many thanks for the use of photos.  An article by Rhys Martin looks at not only the collapse of this bridge but also the state of the town of Okay as it slowly becomes a ghost town. You can click here to see it, but it will also appear in the Chronicles as well.