Upgrades on tap for Harvey bridge

Planning has begun for an $8 million upgrade to a long-troubled Harvey bridge that is closed to vehicular traffic because of mechanical problems.

The 4th Street Bridge closed last week after the mechanisms that allow it to open and close malfunctioned.

Initially, marine traffic into the Harvey Canal was blocked because the bridge was stuck in the down position. Officials were able to open the bridge with a crane, but had to leave it open until parts could be manufactured for the emergency repairs.

Shortly after the closure, Michael Stack, an engineer with the state Department of Transportation and Development, estimated it could take up to $8 million to replace the bridge’s hydraulic, electrical and related systems. A complete replacement of the bridge at its current elevation would cost as much as $25 million.

On Wednesday, Bambi Hall, a DOTD spokeswoman, said the state is planning the $8 million overhaul, but said it would likely take a least a year before the project was ready for bids. Hall said it was unclear exactly what would be addressed in the repairs.

Jefferson Parish Councilman Christopher Roberts has been a longtime critic of the bridge, which he says has been left in deplorable condition by the state for years. He said it’s encouraging to hear that the state is committed to both short-term and long-term repairs.

“I’m glad to the see the state step up and take action,” Roberts said.

Roberts, who met with state officials this week, said that after emergency repairs are completed, the state needs to create a new maintenance and inspection program for the bridge. Because of the 38-year-old bridge’s age and condition, it needs extra attention, and Roberts suggested the state keep an inventory of certain parts that are difficult to acquire. Roberts also is pushing for the state to make long-delayed improvements to the Harvey Tunnel, a push supported by state Rep. Bryan Adams, R-Gretna.

Parish President John Young called the tunnel and bridge crucial to the safety and economic development of the West Bank. Young said state officials have assured him that both projects are a high priority, although only the bridge repairs have a definite timeline. Young said it’s the state’s responsibility to maintain both structures, and he expects them to meet it.

“Obviously, we’re looking for the state to comply its obligations under the law,” Young said. “My understanding is that the state DOTD is working on a permanent solution.”

Not only is the 4th Street Bridge one of only two marine entrances into the Harvey Canal, it also serves as one of four ways for drivers to cross the canal.

The bridge is used heavily by industrial traffic headed to businesses along River Road, but there are also several residents who use it regularly.

The Harvey Canal Industrial Association has called the structure “vitally” important to businesses in the area, and supports the idea of creating a new maintenance and inspection schedule.

Laurie Soileau, the group’s president, said the group has tried to impress upon state officials just how disruptive the bridge’s problems are for businesses.

When the bridge initially closed to marine traffic, it caused a three- or four-day delay for vessels that were trying to access the canal through the locks the bridge abuts.

“We feel that solid infrastructure is so critical to maintaining and growing jobs in this corridor,” she said.

However, Soileau said she is not in favor of a totally new bridge, because that construction could eliminate access for as much as three years, and it’s unclear whether there is enough space for a new span.

Roberts agreed that a total replacement is likely not the best solution, but said regular needed repairs should be the norm.

Jefferson Parish is finishing up its own long-overdue repairs to the Lapalco Bridge, which also has been plagued by closures in recent years. In addition, officials are still pushing for new ramps on the West Bank Expressway to handle congestion at the Manhattan and Barataria exits.

However, with the recent defeat of the Crescent City Connection tolls, it remains unclear where the state will place those projects on its priority list. Roberts said it’s crucial that those structures are repaired before they begin to show the constant problems seen at the Belle Chasse Tunnel.