Lake Texoma

Because Life is Better at the Lake

Five Years to Build a New Willis Bridge (Maybe More)

Lumini Services
Kendall Davis is well-versed in the English language. She has 20 years experience as a published author and writing for clients. Her published works include historical articles in museums, magazines, newspaper articles, columns, content marketing, advertising copy, blogging, and academic papers. Kendall also makes her way in the literary world as a copyeditor. Writing about history is her first love interest. If you have editing or content needs on your website or for your books, articles, blogs, or columns, please visit her website to see details and more examples of her work, the services she offers, and contact information.

In February of 2016, Texomans began hearing rumors that a new Willis Bridge was in the works. Many of us want to know where that new bridge is at. So far, the scarce news reports about the Willis Bridge have appeared in short blurbs with vague information. I spoke with ODOT’s (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) Environmental Programs Division Engineer department this morning.

News OK, published by The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City’s newspaper, reported on Nov. 6, 2018, that ODOT awarded the Willis Bridge contract for 43 million dollars, only 10 million under the proposed budget. The bid supposedly went to Jensen Construction Co. of Sand Springs, Oklahoma. ODOT told me this morning, December 13, 2018, that the Willis Bridge contract is still up for bid. (1)

Those of us who use the Willis Bridge for daily commuting or just for getting across the Red River when we want to witness the failing condition of the bridge on a regular basis. Before the two-years of floods in 2013, we had a drought which wholly exposed the bridge. Some neighbors and I rode golf carts down to the bridge’s piles (a.k.a. piers, footings, beams).

Its poor concrete piles looked like they had been slowly eaten away by some sci-fi creature for years. Missing chunks of concrete and pockmarks covered them. What freaked me out were the girders! The girders, once painted bright orange, were rusted, buckled, and bent in 2013. I took pictures of the piles and girders twice that year, and I cannot find them now.

I called my state representatives in the Oklahoma legislature for a couple of months after that and finally found out that the Willis Bridge was on an agenda to be replaced. Oklahoma expected federal funding sometime in the near future to come through for statewide bridge and road improvements. President Obama was in office at the time, so I began praying when I crossed the Red River on the Willis Bridge.

Willis Bridge Funding

ODOT told me this morning that they expect construction on the new bridge to begin sometime this spring (2019). ODOT maintains the bridge. TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) allotted funds for the new Willis Bridge in 2016. The federal government will absorb most of the expenses for the new bridge, and TxDOT and ODOT are sharing the rest of its costs. Back in February 2016, these agencies reported that the states would split the cost with the feds down the middle. Different government agencies have estimated different price tags for the costs of a replacement bridge over the last 2 ½ years during the planning stages. But, give or take a few million, it should cost around $50 million.

The Future Willis Bridge

ODOT reports that the new bridge will replace the “structurally deficient” Willis Bridge. Structurally deficient is an understatement, but I suppose state government officials do not want to admit that their bridge is in danger of collapsing. Construction is expected to take 2 ½ years, and I believe they have devised a plan that will cause very little traffic disruption.

The construction crews will build the new bridge on the east side of the existing bridge with 12-foot-wide driving lanes and 10-foot-wide shoulders. The new bridge will elevate slightly to its middle where it will rise 80 feet above the lake bed. Bigger boats can visit Fobb Bottom and the Islands! Sadly, they will demolish the old bridge upon completion of the new bridge. How cool would it be to have a bridge exclusively for bicycles, dogs, and pedestrians!

Environmental Concerns*

The Tulsa District of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released a public notice in April of this year. It explained the importance of mitigating the impact of the new bridge on the fish, wildlife, and lake. ODOT plans to build 22 fish habitat structures by crushing the existing piers into rubble and placing them on the lake bed.

“ODOT has proposed mitigation to compensate for unavoidable impacts to waters of the United States by constructing 22 Fish Habitat Structures (FHS) by turning the old bridge pier into rubble piles. The proposed FHS will cover about 0.7 acre below the water surface of the lake. This on-site location and conceptual design was selected based on coordination with the Lake Texoma Corps office, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Fish habitat structures have been shown to be a successful means of enhancing aquatic habitat by providing fish cover, structure, spawning habitat, and as an attachment surface for phytoplankton and submerged vascular plants. Such structures have been successfully used for many years in freshwater habitats. Fish habitat structures such as these provide overall habitat lift for impounded waters, as well as enhanced recreation activities for fishermen.” (2)

It is interesting to note that: The Corps bears the final decision on the need for and extent of mitigation required if the project proposed herein is authorized.

Facts: Willis Bridge


Highways U.S. Route 377 &  SH 99

ODOT: “There are three bridges that can vie for the title of the longest bridge in Oklahoma, and the difference is really a matter of ownership.

The longest state-owned bridge maintained by ODOT is US-377/SH-99 at the Oklahoma/Texas state line over Lake Texoma/Red River in Marshall County. Built in 1960, it measures in at 5,426 feet long, making it the longest bridge maintained by the department. The bridge currently carries an estimated 2,800 vehicles a day, on average, but engineers estimate nearly 4,500 vehicles a day will use it to cross the state line in 2035.” (3)

U.S. ROUTE 377 & SH 99:

  • Originally commissioned in 1930 as a short spur to connect Denton to Ft. Worth, Texas. 

  • Extends from Oklahoma to Mexico for a total length of 478 miles. 

  • The section of US 377 in Texas north of Denton was signed as SH 99 until 1968.

  • Co-signed with SH 99 throughout its whole Oklahoma length with its northern terminus in Stroud, Oklahoma. 

  • Its southern terminus is in Del Rio, Texas.

  • North of Denton, U.S. 377 continues to be 2 lanes. There are no plans to widen it.

  • Cross Canadian Ragweed named their second album, released in January 2001, Highway 377

  • It will be interesting to find out exactly how long it really takes to build the 21st century Willis Bridge from planning stages to finish and add that to the facts!

Willis Bridge 2015 Floods


*I am interviewing James Vincent, Environmental Specialist of the Tulsa District of the USACE, in March about water pollution, and I will ask more about the Willis Bridge at that time.




SWT-2017-657 - 4/18/2018: The application is for the placement of fill material related to the proposed replacement of Willis Bridge on SH 99 over Lake Texoma.
Expiration date: 5/18/2018


Tell us what you think!

Striper Express at Lake Texoma

Lake Texoma Email Updates


Visit our Lake Texoma Sponsors!

Lake Texoma Weather Forecast


Severe Tstms

Hi: 81

Monday Night

Chance Rain

Lo: 64


Severe Tstms

Hi: 75

Tuesday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 62


Slight Chance Thunderstorms

Hi: 81

Wednesday Night

Mostly Cloudy

Lo: 70


Mostly Cloudy

Hi: 81

Thursday Night

Partly Cloudy

Lo: 69

Lake Texoma Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 5/21: 626.61 (+9.61)

Lake Texoma Fishing Report from TPWD (May 15)

Water stained to muddy; 73–77 degrees; 9.21’ low. Black bass are fair on Texas rigged craws, topwaters and squarebill crankbaits. Crappie are fair on minnows. Striped bass are good on slabs and topwaters. Catfish are slow on trotlines. Call ahead to verify ramps are open due to high water.