Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Bayou Liberty Bridge open soon

Ending a 30-year saga that included a public outcry, a court injunction and "Save Our Bridge" bumper

The bridge will also have a nine-foot clearance, so that smaller boats can pass underneath, said John Housey, project manager for Coastal Bridge Co. of Baton Rouge.

"We hope to have it open before school starts," he said.
That's welcome news to Bayou Liberty residents, whose wait for a new bridge has spanned decades.

The drama began in the early 1980s, when the state declared the wooden, hand-cranked bridge built in 1941 a marine hazard and sought to replace it with a vertical lift span that would have towered 80 feet high above the serene bayou community.

"It wouldn't have looked good, also people with sail boats going up the bayou wouldn't have been able to pass under it because it wasn't tall enough," said Armand L. "Junior" Pichon, an area resident and member of the Save Our Bridge movement that formed in response to the state's plan.

Residents eventually won a court fight over the matter and obtained an injunction against the vertical bridge, and the state put in a metal-decked pontoon bridge as a "temporary" solution. That bridge, which often had to be closed due to problems with water levels and broken cables, was a constant headache for both residents and state officials.

"A lot of people didn't like the pontoon bridge because they were scared of it," Pichon said.

Approving plans for the new $6.3 million bridge in 2007, the state Department of Transportation and Development began construction about a year later. Workers last month demolished the pontoon bridge, which now lies in a pile of rusted metal and wood nearby. It will be returned to DOTD later this summer, Housey said.

The new bridge has been open as a single-lane crossing since last year, but officials closed the bridge to traffic for three days this week to install the final hydraulic piping and test the operational sequence--the mechanical gates, steel barriers, and locking mechanisms--which is used to open and close the hydraulic system.

Housey said workers will close the bridge for another few days later this summer to conduct another round of tests before completing construction, and finish work connecting the approach to the existing roadway.

Pichon, who lives on Dave Pichon Road, still has fond memories of the old bridge, an "engineering marvel" which could be opened by inserting a pin and hand-cranking the bridge open for traffic.

Nonetheless, he says he's moved on.

"It'll be good when they get it finished. I'm glad to hear that it'll be done soon," he said

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