Could Route 66 lose the Pony Bridge?

Pony Bridge, Route 66, Oklahoma

This is an important heads-up for my fellow road-trippers, Route 66 lovers, and fans of engineering and architecture, courtesy of Ron at Route 66 News.

A recently updated eight-year plan for bad bridges in Oklahoma targets three Route 66 bridges for replacement, including the famous Pony Bridge near Bridgeport.

The initial news release about the bridge plan said spans would be replaced or rehabilitated. However, Kenna Mitchell, a member of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s Media and Public Relations Division, confirmed in an email that three prominent Route 66 bridges would be replaced, not repaired.

“The three bridges you cite below are scheduled for replacement at this time. […] While the department certainly recognizes the historic nature and the public interest in these bridges, we also have to balance those concerns with the continued safety of these structures and of the travelling public.”

I really don’t like the sound of that.

According to Ron’s post about the possible demise of this great bridge and two others, ODOT has been (surprise, surprise) giving out some conflicting signals; moreover, the Deputy State Preservation Officer informed Ron that she has not heard a peep about this.

Last year, we lost the 1936 Bird Creek Bridge near Catoosa; there are twin bridges no longer. Alas. Let’s not let this happen again!

Finished in July, 1933 over the South Canadian River, the famed Pony Bridge near Bridgeport, Oklahoma is just shy of 4,000 feet long, and features 38 bright yellow ‘pony’ trusses from end to end. We actually drove across it three times because it was such fun to do. The Pony Bridge is a unique beauty (and no, we didn’t feel at all endangered as we drove over it). ODOT even acknowledges the Pony Bridge as being not a, but the “crown jewel of 66 in Oklahoma”, so why not repair it instead of destroying it? Really, I am so tired of seeing chunks of our history lost forever this way—and we all know that this delightful bridge will be replaced by some bland, ugly, completely un-memorable bridge with none of the charm or history of the Pony Bridge (featured in the Henry Fonda film version of The Grapes Of Wrath).

What can be done? Can the Pony Bridge be saved? Ron’s suggestion:

I urge that you contact the Oklahoma Department of Transportation at odotinfo(at)odot(dot)org and ask it to repair, not replace, the bridges. Also, Gov. Mary Fallin, who has stated her support for tourism, should be contacted at info(at)gov(dot)ok(dot)gov about this crisis for Route 66 bridges.

As Heisch said in her email:

“I can tell you that the only way we can have success preserving historic bridges is when local citizens let ODOT know they want the bridges retained and used. They have to speak up and write letters too. To paraphrase a famous congressman, all preservation is local.”

Though not an Oklahoman, as a Route 66 photographer, I’m absolutely sending notes to both Governor Fallin and ODOT (note: please, please be polite when doing such things; as someone who used to cover economics and politics, I can assure you that nastiness gets you nowhere but the trash can and does nothing to help your cause). Surely a show of support for both the famed Pony Bridge and Route 66’s other historic Oklahoman bridges can help ODOT see reason, not just dollar signs (and frankly, replacement estimates tend to be far below reality anyhow). Please join me in doing so—together, we can save the Pony Bridge as well as the Captain Creek and Timber Creek bridges for future Mother Road travellers from all over the world.

Looking across the Pony Bridge, Route 66, Oklahoma

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