Less than a week after the Metro Council killed Mayor-President Kip Holden’s capital improvements tax package, the city-parish was forced by the state to shut down a bridge that would have been replaced by passage of the tax proposal.
Holden said the closure of North Flannery Road Bridge over Lively Bayou on Tuesday is just the beginning of a “traffic nightmare” that will result from the closure of more of the parish’s aging bridges.
“If the people don’t stand up and start calling for council members to protect the safety of East Baton Rouge Parish, we’ll continue to watch bridges be closed and create major problems, especially when school starts up,” Holden said.
The North Flannery Bridge, north of Florida Boulevard and just south of South Choctaw Drive, was closed Tuesday after bridge inspectors from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development determined the bridge has critical deficiencies, said William Daniel, interim director of the city-parish Department of Public Works.
The city-parish was given 24 hours to close the bridge or risk losing state and federal funding for its bridge program, according to a city-parish news release.
The closed bridge is on a list of 78 of the weakest bridges in the parish slated for replacement within 10 years under the mayor’s capital improvements plan.
Bridges have been the cornerstone of Holden’s latest campaign to pass his $748 million tax and bond plan — of which $80 million would have gone toward bridge replacements.
But on July 27, the Metro Council unexpectedly voted 9-3 to delete the tax package from the council’s agenda, preventing it from being considered and discussed.
Holden could reintroduce the tax proposal on the council’s Aug. 10 agenda or call for a special meeting before Aug. 16, which is the deadline for November election items to be submitted to the State Bond Commission.
North Flannery Bridge was built in 1965, and is one of about 200 bridges in the parish that has a timber structural component making it more prone to deterioration, city-parish officials said.
The bridge has an average daily traffic volume of approximately 13,000 vehicles per day, Daniel said.
DPW employees will determine by Wednesday whether the bridge can be repaired or if it will have to remain closed.
“If we can’t fix the bridge, it will be a minimum of two years before we can get it opened,” he said.
DPW has some funds to repair and fix bridges, but is mostly reliant on federal and state grants to replace bridges.
Daniel said state inspectors are checking every bridge in the parish this year between March and September.
The inspections are scheduled for at least every two years, he said.
This is the first bridge closure of the year, Daniel said, adding that he expects more.
So far about one-third of the parish’s 305 bridges have undergone inspection, he said, and 35 percent of the bridges’ safety ratings have been downgraded by state officials.
The mayor’s tax proposal called for the replacement of all bridges in the parish rated zero through five on the National Bridge Inspection Index, which is the 10-point scale of bridge safety used by local and state officials.
Five is considered fair condition and zero is considered failed condition.
Before the Tuesday inspection, North Flannery Bridge was ranked a four.
Daniel said this is an example of how quickly a bridge’s condition can degrade.
North Flannery Bridge, Daniel said, is in an industrial part of the parish.
“It has heavy trucks on it all the time,” he said, which can wear down the bridge’s timber substructure.
Holden said his staff is “having discussions” about putting the tax package back on the agenda for the Metro Council to reconsider.
He acknowledged that some council members have had doubts about the severity of the bridge issue.
“None of them know when a bridge may go out,” he said. “I hope sooner or later they’ll understand we’re not crying wolf.”
Councilman Scott Wilson, who made the motion last week to delete the tax proposal from the agenda, said his position will not be swayed by the latest bridge closure.
“He says safety is at risk and that we’re playing with people’s lives. Don’t give me that,” he said. “He’s been mayor for six and a half years. If you’ve known about this then, you’re just as much to blame.”
The $748 million tax package was Holden’s third attempt since 2008. Two previous attempts at the tax package — $989 million in 2008 and $901 million in 2009 — were defeated by voters.
Holden’s latest attempt broke the tax package into three components unlike the two previous attempts.
The tax proposal would have issued 30-year bonds to pay for public safety; infrastructure; and economic development capital projects. In total, it called for a 2.9-mill property tax and a three-quarter cent sales tax increase.