Replacing the Red Chute Bayou Bridge on Sligo Road will begin soon, but the process turned quite lengthy after the structure unexpectedly closed earlier this spring.
Cindy Dorfner, a Public Information Officer for the Dept. of Transportation & Development (DOTD), said the bridge closed in March after an initial inspection revealed it was unsafe due to high water and drift coming down Red Chute that was banging against the timber pilings.
“They were really taking a beating,” Dorfner said of the structure. “We thought it could potentially fall in. Though the bridge itself hasn’t fallen in, it wasn’t long after we closed it that portions of the road on the approach started falling in because the embankment was being washed away by the water.”
Initially, Dorfner said crews were waiting on the water to recede so an assessment could be done on the bridge, resulting in a plan of action to determine how repairs should be made.
Had they began the repairs then, Dorfner said, the work wouldn’t have started until the fall when the bridge was already on schedule to be replaced in November.
“If we were going to repair it, we would have to wait for the water to go down, which is about now, before we could assess the repairs it would need,” she explained. “We would not have even gotten into the repair work before it was supposed to be replaced.”
Instead, DOTD did their best to accelerate the replacement process.
“There’s a legal process to follow and a lot of things to do behind the scenes,” Dorfner said. “Even though this was an emergency situation, all of the requirements are still there. We were just trying to get it done quicker.”
A low bid on the project came in August, but it was still a million dollars over the state’s estimated cost and budget. It then became a review situation to make sure the bid was the best use of the state’s money.
At that point, it could have been put back out to bid or awarded. The chief engineer did decide to go ahead and award the contract, Dorfner said.
The bid was awarded last week and the process is now at the stage where the contractor is working out a schedule of what they plan to do and when. A pre-construction meeting will be held around 30 days after the issued bid date, which gives the contractor enough time to get a plan in order.
Once that meeting is held, there will be an award execution, which is the ‘go’ signal for the contractor to begin work. At that point, there is a 35 day assembly period for the contractor to order materials needed for the project.
“We’re going to have concrete pilings instead of timber because we don’t use timber ones anymore,” Dorfner said. “There’s not a warehouse that has concrete pilings that fit the specifications of the Red Chute Bridge so they are going to have to contract the company that will make those pilings before we get those here.”
The contractor can take some, all or none of the 35 day period for this part of the project. Once the assembly period ends, though, a 250 day project period begins.
Dorfner clarified that it is 250 work days, which may not include weekends, weather days and holidays depending on the contractor’s specifications. There are a total of three bridges to be worked on during this period.
The contract states the contractor will replace the Red Chute Bayou bridge, begin work on a detour bridge, replace the bridge before Red Chute, and tear down the detour bridge in that 250 day period.
“That’s a lot of work, obviously,” Dorfner said. They are going to have to rebuild embankments on the section that has already caved in. They will also be doubling the space between pilings, meaning less opportunity for drift to get caught on the pilings. Even with concrete, you don’t want drift to get caught there.”
Dorfner said DOTD understands there is a lot of frustration with drivers having to detour routes around the closed bridge. However, they are asking for a bit more patience as the project moves forward.
“We certainly didn’t plan for this to happen, but that bridge was old. No matter how good you take care of something, it’s going to eventually reach the end of its lifecycle. That was probably sped up a little by the high water and drift, but that bridge needed to be replaced,” Dorfner said. “We sympathize with the people and bus drivers who drive longer routes and the students who have to wake up earlier than normal, but it this is a government process that takes time. We are certainly ready to get started.”