BREAUX BRIDGE – Now it’s Breaux Bridge. Until last week it could’ve been Breaux Bridges. First three, then two, but now just one.
The La. Highway 94 bridge, what locals refer to as the “concrete bridge,” is the only place where traffic can cross Bayou Teche in town.
The Bridge Street bridge downtown is closed for repairs and the one-lane former railroad bridge at Refinery Road, which is slated for replacement, has essentially been condemned by Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme as unsafe for the heavy traffic it was seeing as one of two detours.
The iconic lift bridge in the heart of the historic district is closed for repairs to the cable and counterweight system used to raise the span. Repairs that should have been done by Friday before Memorial Day are now expected to keep the bridge closed – much to the chagrin of downtown merchants – through next Thursday, according to Randy “Crip” Cormier, the city’s maintenance superintendent.
Cormier, who said the city was given little notice of the closure, said what he knows about it he learned from the crew out there actually walking the girders.
The Refinery Road bridge, called “Black Bridge” locally, was closed to traffic after a kayaker noticed that some of the wooden pilings that support it are rotten through and through.
The bridge, though not necessarily those pilings, dates back to the turn of the previous century. It supported a railroad spur serving the now abandoned sugar mill between the bayou and Rees Street.
Delhomme made the decision to close the bridge rather than take a chance, said Cormier.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” he said.
Ironically, on the same day, word came from DOTD in Baton Rouge that a $1.7 million contract has been awarded to replace the Refinery Road bridge.
The contract, awarded to Gilchrist Construction Co. of Alexandria, includes a new two-lane concrete girder span with a pedestrian lane. The contract also calls for the approaches to the bridge to be straightened.
The bridge has long been scheduled for replacement but was put on a back burner after Hurricane Katrina.
Cormier said he was told, albeit unofficially, that the lift bridge is taking longer to repair than expected because bearings in the cable lift system were found to be faulty.
The original repair jobs was to replace the cables.
The old bridge stirred passions around town recently when DOTD officials were reportedly speculating, perhaps only in jest, that the cheapest way to deal with the problem of deterioration would be to simply cut down the iconic superstructure, which is as much a symbol of Breaux Bridge as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris.
The Chamber of Commerce sprang into action, along with the mayor and the legislative delegation, and got a commitment from DOTD to preserve the bridge as it is.
Now the city’s sesquicentennial celebration is focusing on the downtown bridge, with a “Bridge Bash,” with music, food, lectures and displays planned for Saturday, Sept. 12, when local artist Darryl “Demo” Demourelle refreshes the crawfish motif on the bridge’s concrete counterweights.