Dora’s Shawn Shipley honored by governor as part of 2017 MoDOT bridges-replacement team
Shawn Shipley, supervisor of the Missouri Department of Transportation maintenance shed in Dora, had been asleep only a couple of hours when his phone rang sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. that Saturday morning, April 30, 2017.
Answering the phone in an exhausted fog, Shipley couldn’t believe what his fellow MoDOT employee Chaseton Rogers was telling him: The major CC Highway and PP Highway bridges over the North Fork of the White River in eastern Ozark County had been completely washed away by raging floodwaters. The bridges were gone.
“I was in absolute, total disbelief,” Shipley said Monday, recalling that moment from two years ago.
The impressive work by Shipley and his MoDOT co-workers in Dora in dealing with the 2017 flood-related calamities, and then their work with MoDOT employees throughout the state in getting the two big bridges rebuilt within only six months of the flood were recognized last week in Jefferson City when Gov. Mike Parson presented team members, including Shipley, with the Governor’s Award for Quality and Productivity.
The MoDOT team was one of five state-employed teams to be recognized with the award during the Jan. 9 event.
MoDOT project manager Pete Berry in Willow Springs, also a member of the honored team, told the Times Monday that in his 24-year career with MoDOT, he’d never seen anything like the coordinated effort by multiple state agencies and outside consultants that resulted in the rebuilt bridges’ completion just six months after the flood. Also amazing was the fact that the rebuilt bridges were completed and opened to traffic just three months after the contract was awarded to Kansas City-based Clarkson Construction, the lowest of four bidders on the two-bridge project.
In presenting the award, including individual plaques for team members and a larger plaque now displayed in MoDOT’s regional office in Willow Springs, Parson recognized the team for “excellent customer service” during the bridge replacements and commended their effort in “minimizing the inconvenience to the public and expediting planning, procurement and construction for both bridges.”
A press release from the governor’s office said the replacement team “compressed a construction process for bridges of this size that normally takes three years into less than six months. … Adding to the complexity of these projects, the new bridges were redesigned to avoid future flood damage.”
The Clarkson Construction website says the Ozark County North Fork River bridge replacement project was also awarded an America’s Transportation - Mid America Region for Operations Excellence award.
For Shipley, the award was a reminder of the exhausting time during and after the April 29-30, 2017, flood when he and his co-workers at the time, Chaseton Rogers, Andy Boyd, Kane Thomas, Luke Cooley, Dillan Collins and Kody Decker, struggled to do everything they could to keep the driving public safe as torrential rain filled every waterway to record levels. The floodwaters not only destroyed the two major bridges over the North Fork but also covered other roads and bridges throughout the county and washed out approaches where roads connected to low-water crossings.
For example, Shipley said, three bridge ends were washed out on AP Highway on the far east side of the county, “where it didn’t take out the bridge but washed out places where there were 20-foot drops between the road and the bridge end.”
On that Friday evening, April 29, 2017, Shipley said four of his Dora crew members couldn’t get out of their own homes due to the rising water, so he and a couple of others planned to alternate shifts during the night. He had worked until midnight before finally heading home for a few hours’ sleep. After he was awakened by Rogers’ call, he said, “you go back to work because you’ve got to see it for yourself and try to figure out where we go from here.”
Then, standing on the pavement next to where the bridges had been, “it was a strange feeling to see it gone,” he said. “It was unreal.”
That Saturday morning, he and Dillan Collins loaded concrete barricades on trailers, but getting them into position was no easy task. Normally it might have taken 10-15 minutes to reach the east end of the CC Highway bridge. But with the bridge gone, they had to drive north on Highway 181 to Highway 14 then travel east to Highway 63 north of West Plains and head south to CC to drive back west to the river, a trip that took an hour or more. Installing the barricades on the south side of the PP Highway bridge required an even longer drive-around.
For the next two days, the MoDOT employees who were able to get to work rushed to put out “permanent signage and set up barricades to block off the holes,” Shipley said. “We put out every cone, anything we had for a safety device. We ran plumb out of barricades.”
Meanwhile, he said, all of the Dora MoDOT employees had damage on their own properties, and for some of them, the usual 10-minute commute to work at the Dora MoDOT shed became a 60- to 70-mile drive. “Everybody had their own battle to fight,” Shipley said.
Last week, the Dora men’s hard work – along with the work of dozens of other MoDOT employees around the state – was recognized by the governor.
While no one argued that the honor was deserved, there was a bit of irony in the recognition. When asked why it had taken nearly two years for the award to be presented, Berry answered that MoDOT had applied for the award “early last year” and that “the application process is pretty lengthy.”
It seems that applying for the award that honored the quick rebuilding of two major bridges took longer than actually building the bridges.