McALESTER, Okla. - Improving access to McAlester Army Ammunition Plant and safety on the highway leading to the facility for employees and truckers transporting munitions is paving the way for several joint projects between the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and U.S. Army here.

Col. Timothy D. Beckner, MCAAP commander, talked with Gary Ridley, secretary of ODOT, in April 2011 when he visited the plant about safety on truck-congested U.S. Highway 69 near the plant. At the time, morning rush hour traffic at the plant's gate was backing up onto the highway that stretches from south Texas to Minnesota. The afternoon rush hour with nearly 2,000 employees merging onto the highway in an hour was another cause for concern.

The discussions led to MCAAP partnering with the state to use combined MCAAP-secured public lands and ODOT funds to build a new four- or five-lane bridge entering the installation. It will be built in the same location as the existing two-lane bridge to the plant's front gate it will replace.

ODOT officials said they expect to receive the bridge design for review by the end of 2013 and that construction should begin in 2015.

ODOT added another related project -- widening the highway to include a dedicated turning lane in the middle - to its eight-year plan as a result of the bridge discussions. The road will be widened along a two-mile stretch from Savanna -- immediately south of the plant -- to the Indian Nation Turnpike -- north of MCAAP. Work may begin around 2020.

"It's the only portion that is not a divided highway so it's not safe," said Andrew Scherman, engineer, MCAAP Directorate of Engineering and Public Works. "It will look similar to the Chambers Road intersection that is five lanes across and greatly improve safety."

Pleased with the plan, MCAAP officials invited ODOT engineers to the plant to discuss the feasibility of another project. Plant officials asked ODOT about designing a 1,000-foot project, including a bridge, at Brown Lake that would provide access from C-Tree Road to the water plant and adjacent lake. It would be paid for with Army funds.

Scherman said the existing bridge over the Brown Lake Dam is an older, single-lane structure with a "fair" rating. However, he said the one-lane access could pose a problem for first responders during an emergency and even worse, would force drivers to take a 13-mile roundtrip detour if the bridge is inaccessible.

The project is possible because the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act gave the military services approval to contract with a local government for services. MCAAP and ODOT officials are currently working out the final details.

"This is the first partnership where MCAAP will fund projects that ODOT will execute," Scherman said. "Everything else was just a relationship up until now."

Scherman said the plant had only two options in the past -- either self-execute or contract work through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers is unable to execute the project because of the tight time constraints tied to the funding, he said.

"Under current circumstances, we get a more economical design and execution of transportation related systems here at the plant," Scherman said. "The neat thing here is to have the federal institution partner with the local DOT to leverage their specific knowledge, skill sets, design, solicitation and oversight."

Anthony Echelle, P.E., Division 2 engineer for ODOT based in Antlers, said ODOT welcomes partnerships when the interests of both organizations meet their priorities and serve public safety.

"We realize McAAP has a mission and ODOT has a mission, and when those two missions start overlapping there is a natural partnership there," he said. "As long as people drive on roads and [truckers] haul bombs on roads, we will probably be working together."

Beckner, who initiated the talks, is pleased with how the relationship has flourished.

"We're the best at making bombs, but within Oklahoma they're the best at designing and making bridges and highways," he added. "The projects we are working with ODOT will provide us with the best, safest and most cost-efficient transportation systems. That bodes well for our employees, the public and the joint warfighter -- our customers."

As part of the relationship, MCAAP invited 15 ODOT engineers to the plant for a tour earlier this month. The engineers received a mission briefing and visited A-Line, where they learned about the load, assembly and pack of 500-pound general purpose, air-delivered conventional munitions.

They also visited the Missile Maintenance Facility where Stinger, Maverick and Chaparral missiles are tested and recertified by electronics technicians, and the outload pad where munitions are loaded and transported to warfighters worldwide.

"I'm grateful to be able to bring our folks out there," Echelle said. "I appreciate all the hospitality. It was just nice to learn about the facility and its importance to our nation's defense."

McAlester Army Ammunition Plant is the Department of Defense's premier bomb and warhead loading facility, and is one of 14 industrial facilities in the Joint Munitions Command. It is vital to ammunition stockpile management and delivery to the joint warfighter for training and combat operations.