Oklahoma Bridge Closed Briefly After Barge Collision

It hasn’t been the best week for highway bridges in the United States. Five days after the Francis Key Bridge in Baltimore was struck by a container ship and collapsed, a barge on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma struck a key highway bridge in that state.

The Associated Press reports the bridge carrying U.S. 59 was struck by a barge and troopers with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol closed a portion of U.S. Highway 59 south of Sallisaw at around 1:25 p.m. after the barge hit the bridge.

No injuries were reported on the highway or the barge, according to state patrol officials. The bridge crosses the Arkansas River where it enters the Robert S. Kerr Reservoir, which is not far from Oklahoma’s border with Arkansas. The highway reopened to traffic around 4 p.m.

“Engineers inspected the structure and found it safe to reopen,” the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said in an email to the AP. The Coast Guard is investigating.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol/Department of Public Safety posted on X, formerly Twitter, that US-59 south of Sallisaw at the Kerr Reservoir was completely shut down within minutes of the lane closure being reported and that troopers were diverting traffic away from the area.

A family out fishing in the Arkansas River in Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon caught the moment the massive barge crashed into the busy highway bridge, and it was posted on social media by the Associated Press and other outlets.

McClellan Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS), located in Oklahoma and Arkansas, contains 440 miles of waterway and is a crucial part of the United States transportation system.

The MKARNS strategically connects the heartland of the United States with the rest of the world via the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans. A 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated that the MKARNS contributes a total annual impact of $8.5 billion in sales, $4.3 billion in GDP, and 55,872 jobs to the national economy.

Even before Saturday’s barge incident, The Oklahoman had already been making parallels between the Baltimore bridge collapse and the I-40 Bridge Disaster in 2002.

On May 26, 2002, freight barges being transported on the Arkansas River collided with a pier supporting the Interstate 40 road bridge crossing the river. The resulting failure of the supports caused a section of the bridge to collapse, killing 14 people and injuring another 11.