Lapalco Bridge closures draw councilman’s attention

More than $4 million in improvements to Lapalco Boulevard Bridge haven’t eliminated prolonged closures for the span, and Jefferson Parish Council Chris Roberts is asking the parish administration to come up with some additional solutions.

Roberts questioned Randy Nicholson, the parish’s director of streets, about what he says are frequent closures of the bridge at this week’s council meeting. Roberts brought up the same issue in October but said he’s still getting complaints from residents who are being inconvenienced by the closures.

In addition, gridlock caused by the closures often requires Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies to direct traffic, Roberts said. That means those deputies aren’t out patrolling, and Roberts wants to know what is wrong.

“What’s the delay in finishing the bridge?” Roberts asked Nicholson. “We’ve spent God know how much trying to fix and remediate the bridge itself.”

Nicholson said CEC Inc. is pretty much finished with repairs to the bridge, but the company recently sent out to replace some pins for the span. The removal of that equipment has caused some recent closures, and a fuse went out on the bridge last week that shut down traffic as well. Nicholson said that although the parish spent about $3.79 million on the bridge, problems will still occur.

“For the most part, everything is working fine,” Nicholson said. “There’s a lot of things that can go wrong.”

Roberts was particularly miffed that Friday’s blown fuse closed the bridge for roughly three or four hours and required a half-dozen deputies to direct traffic. During that incident, one driver went around the roadblock and up the wrong side of the bridge, nearly hitting a parish employee, he said.

Nicholson said the fuse issue was a result of a fail-safe on the bridge designed to handle electrical surges. Unfortunately, to verify which fuse was out, both sides of the bridge had to be examined, he said.

“It’s a long arduous process to figure out what’s going on,” Nicholson said. “It takes two or three hours; it’s a big process.”

Jefferson Parish improved the bridge’s lift-gate system, replaced its lock system and installed cameras.

The parish also decided to replace many of the electrical components that regulate the drawbridge, clean drainage pipes and improve the bridge’s balance. Those improvements cost $620,000 alone. Jefferson Parish had to improve the bridge after a barge crashed into the span

Roberts said that it feels like the closures have been increasing, not dissipating, and he’d like to see the parish explore some sort of early warning system that would let drivers on Lapalco Boulevard know when the bridge is inoperable. It could include signage and lights at different locations, he said.

Roberts noted that when the Lapalco Bridge is inoperable, drivers must choose between the often-closed Harvey Tunnel, the often inoperable Fourth Street Bridge or typically crowded West Bank Expressway.