BREAUX BRIDGE — The icon of Breaux Bridge, the trestle that spans Bayou Teche and gave the town its name, is in need of repair, according to City Councilman Gary “Bimmie” Champagne.
“The bridge is an identifier of our city, and it’s in need of sandblasting and painting,” Champagne said.
Champagne chairs the Save the Bridge committee, a project of the Breaux Bridge Area Chamber of Commerce, overseeing fundraising from private and corporate contributors that will be used to apply for matching federal grants. So far, the committee has raised about $30,000 for a project that will cost between $300,000 to $400,000, he said.
Engineers who have examined the bridge have found no corrosion, Champagne said, but the peeling paint may allow for rust to set in, which could lead to safety issues with the bridge.
If the bridge falls into dire need of repair, the state may step in and remove the upper steel portion, which has become an icon for the city and one of the most photographed aspects of Breaux Bridge.
“Then it would be like any other bridge,” Champagne said. “It’s a unique bridge, and we want to save it.”
Breaux Bridge received its name when Firmin Breaux built a footbridge at the spot over Bayou Teche in 1799.
His son, Agricole Breaux, built the first vehicular bridge in 1817, followed by a modified bridge in 1845.
The state of Louisiana took over bridge construction in 1855 with several incarnations, including the first steel bridge in 1899.
The current bridge was built in 1950.
Over the years volunteers spearheaded by the local Kiwanis have pressure-washed the concrete and the state has repaired cables, Champagne said.
Because there is lead paint involved on the surface of the bridge, sandblasting and pressure washing must be done with a netting to keep toxins from reaching the roadbed and into the waters of Bayou Teche.
The lead paint and the containment process to remove it is one reason why repairing the bridge will be expensive, Champagne said.
“There is lead paint on the bridge and it has to be removed or encapsulated,” he explained. “That will be 40 to 50 percent of the cost.”
Fundraising has slowed due to the elections, Champagne said. Major efforts will resume in the spring.
“We need some major fundraising to get this through,” he said. “But I’m confident we’ll raise that money.”
The Save the Bridge committee has partnered with the Community Foundation of Acadiana and created a fund to accept donations under “Paint the Bridge.” For information, visit cfacadiana.org.
For information on Save the Bridge project, visit the committee’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/breauxbridgesavethebridgeproject.