For a couple of years now, motorists have enjoyed a new “gateway” bridge across the Red River on their way to scenic southeastern Oklahoma, or from there into scenic and historic Red River County in Northeast Texas.
Construction on the State Highway 37 Bridge across the Red began in February 2013 and is now considered complete, thanks to a team of Texas Department of Transportation professionals based in the Paris District and contractor Austin Bridge and Road LP. Coming in early and under the $14.5 million budget earned the team a 2015 Texas Project Award.
The Texas Project Awards were created by the Association of General Contractors and TxDOT to honor industry professionals whose work distinguishes them for upholding the special cooperative spirit it takes to complete complex transportation projects and solve difficult problems. Each year, 10 construction and two design awards are presented to contractors and TxDOT professionals whose contributions exemplify this type of excellence.
In August 2016 one of those construction awards went to Dan Perry, an assistant area engineer in the Paris District, and his SH 37 bridge team for their cooperation, collaboration and engineering skills.
Perry began his TxDOT career in 1998 as bridge design technician while studying engineering at Texas A&M University-Commerce. After graduation from TAMC in 2005, he worked for TxDOT as engineering assistant, engineering and design team supervisor, plan design and environmental supervisor, and was named Paris Area assistant engineer in 2012.
The SH 37 bridge team includes his wife, Ellen Perry, a transportation and maintenance engineer; construction inspectors Troy Scholl and Richard Floyd; materials and process inspector Randy Floyd; and construction record keeper Shari Coker.
“Ellen designed the bridge so it can be lengthened in the future if need be,” Perry said. “She worked closely with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in getting the design done. Our team also worked closely with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Lots of agreements were in play here to get the bridge done.”
The SH 37 bridge across the Red River is an important conduit for trade and traffic between Texas and Oklahoma. In an interesting historic aside, the bridge is a scant five miles east of the site of old Jonesboro, Texas. A ferry across the river there carried pioneer notables such as Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Benjamin Milam and Stephen F. Austin from then-Arkansas to Texas as early as 1816 (remember 7th grade history class?).
Known as a prominent Anglo settlement in what was then New Spain, Jonesboro was also a steamboat port and center of commerce where travelers could set out for the frontier, or perhaps civilized Nacogdoches, on overland roads such as the Trammel Trace. A flash flood along the Red River wiped out Jonesboro in 1840. Modern travelers have the gateway bridge and SH 37 to carry them safely across the Red and onward on a modern system of roads and highways.
Building the new bridge was no cakewalk. Perry said abundant rainfall and flooding along the Red River was just one of many challenges his team and the contractor had to overcome.
“We first had to repair some damage to the old bridge, which ran parallel to the new bridge,” he said. “The old bridge had to carry traffic well and part of its deck was damaged. We also had to deal with some graffiti vandalism, an issue with reflectors for the new bridge rail, and some striping changes for the 12-foot main travel lanes.
“The biggest challenge though was the weather, and the flooding it produced in 2015.”
The new bridge was carrying traffic by then, but at one point during record flooding in early 2015 it was the only bridge open across the Red River between US 75 in Grayson County, Texas, and Arkansas…an eastward reach along the river of more than 158 miles.
Even more record rainfall in the fall of 2015 moved the Red River channel and bank back almost 100 feet on the Oklahoma side of the bridge, necessitating a change in the construction plan.
“There was a big washout on the Oklahoma side,” Perry said. “But the bridge deck remained well above the river.”
With the bank of the Oklahoma landing moved back, the rock rip-rap that had been stockpiled in Oklahoma for the original landing was freed up for ODOT to use elsewhere. The contractor repaired some of the scouring done by high water to the new landing on the Oklahoma side. And when the old SH 37 bridge was demolished after the new bridge was carrying traffic, the engineers left the old bridge abutments in place to act as a cushion to soften the impact of future flooding on the new bridge.
As each of these challenges arose, the close collaboration and partnerships between the TxDOT team, ODOT and the contractor minimized any adverse impacts to the project or for the traveling public.
“Knowing that we completed an important connector bridge for two states, one that serves commerce and the public is, I think, the biggest reward for our TxDOT team,” Perry said. “Our work had a really positive impact…it provides a safe route across the river for all traffic, even when the river is acting up.”
The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining 80,000 miles of road and for supporting aviation, rail, and public transportation across the state. Through collaboration and leadership, we deliver a safe, reliable, and integrated transportation system that enables the movement of people and goods. Find out more at TxDOT.gov. "Like" us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.