State inspections this past week identified “critical deficiencies” in at least two more parish bridges, requiring temporary repairs and vehicle weight restrictions.
The Woodland Ridge Boulevard bridge over Jones Creek and the Cloverland Avenue bridge over Claycut Bayou between Siegen Lane and Airline Highway now have 5-ton weight restrictions in place, meaning no heavy trucks, 18-wheelers or school buses can pass over the bridges.
Woodland Ridge is a primary access point for Episcopal High School.
These two bridges were included on a list of 78 bridges that were scheduled for replacement under Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $748 million tax and bond package the Metro Council rejected last month.
Last month, state inspectors ordered the parish to close North Flannery Bridge over Lively Bayou, also on the replacement list, because its structural deficiencies posed an imminent threat to drivers.
Jim Ferguson, chief engineer for the city-parish Department of Public Works, said crews will evaluate the bridge conditions and make temporary repairs, which will likely allow the weight restrictions to be increased to between 15 and 20 tons.
He said state inspectors have identified six bridges so far this year that had “critical deficiencies” requiring repairs by public works crews. The four other bridges were located on Firewood Drive, Dyer Road, O’Neal Lane and Rafe Meyer Road.
Ferguson said crews have been able to temporarily repair those bridges.
North Flannery is the only bridge to have been closed so far this year.
Ferguson said he’d hoped that North Flannery could have been reopened soon, but the need for repairs on other bridges had taken crews and funding away from the North Flannery project.
This year, the state Department of Transportation and Development is inspecting all 305 of the parish’s bridges, which it does at least every two years. The bridges are given a safety rating of zero through 10 on the National Bridge Inspection Index, with zero being the least safe and 5 being considered fair condition.
Ferguson said 35 percent of the bridges are coming back with downgraded safety ratings.
He said the state still has about 30 bridges left to inspect this year.
Holden touted bridge replacements as the cornerstone of his most recent capital improvements tax package. He said the bridges, many of which have timber infrastructure components, are decaying and desperately need to be replaced for public safety.
He often frustrated Metro Council members by blaming them for risking lives when they voted against the infrastructure tax package.
The 78 bridges would have been replaced during a 10-year period for about $80 million under Holden’s tax proposal.
But after the Metro Council voted against sending his tax package to voters this year, Holden said his “hands are tied” as far as being able to address necessary infrastructure upgrades in the parish such as bridges.
William Daniel, interim Public Works director, said his budget does not have enough money to pay for replacing bridges.
Bridges can be replaced only with funds from state and federal grants, he said.
Holden did not respond to an interview request about plans to address bridges in next year’s budget.
“We are in the process of preparing a proposed budget for next year,” said Holden’s aide, Scott Dyer, in an email.
When asked if DPW would ask for a bigger budget to address city-parish bridges next year, Daniel replied, “I honestly don’t know how much room is available in the budget.”