FRENCH SETTLEMENT — For Rose Sabre, the worst part of having the bridge to her community closed came when an ambulance reached it and couldn’t get to her home.

After being rerouted through a private gravel road, the ambulance was able to get her daughter safely to a hospital.

For several months, residents of their community, Virgin Isles, have had to get in and out through private property, Sabre said.

The bridge is one of 15 or more in Livingston Parish that needs replacing, Parish President Layton Ricks said. The parish is embarking on a program to replace some of its worst bridges.

Fire trucks and school buses can no longer cross some of the old, timber bridges, said Sam Digirolamo, Department of Public Works director. Load limits had to be lowered on the James Chapel Road Bridge.

“I was scared for a school bus to cross it,” Digirolamo said.

The same is true for a bridge on Wax Road, while the Cline Drive bridge had to be shut down to all traffic, he said. In addition to signs, a mound of dirt now sits in front of that bridge blocking all traffic.

The parish made arrangements for people who live in those 20 to 25 homes to drive through a gravel road in a private, mobile-home park, Digirolamo said.

That has caused increased traffic and increased dust, said Ann Evans, who lives in the park.

Despite bridge problems in several parts of the parish, emergency vehicles can get to homes, but may have to take longer, slower routes, Digirolamo said.

“It’s been a long time” since the parish has done bridge work, the public works director added. “The situation has gotten real bad.”

Before this program, the last bridge work was in 2007, Digirolamo said.

The parish will replace the worst timber bridges with longer, concrete bridges or with culverts, Ricks said. The new structures will be safer, able to carry greater loads and designed to allow better water flow.

Moving more water will be important during floods, he added.

Using several funding sources, the parish will replace at least nine bridges within the next year, officials said.

The number could be higher, depending on how far the money goes, Digirolamo said.

In the largest program, the parish will replace seven bridges that are about 50 years old, have exceeded their lifespan and are showing signs of rot and decay, said Chad Bacus, an engineer for Forte & Tablada Inc.

Water has topped several of the bridges during floods, especially when debris constricts the drainage under the bridges, but the new bridges will be built higher, he said.

The first bridges to be replaced under that federally funded program are the ones on James Chapel Road and Cline Drive, because of the difficulties those bridges cause, Bacus said.

Two bridges on Haynes Settlement Road will be replaced under that program as will bridges on Blacklake Club Road, Jack Rhodus Road and McCarroll Road.

A $4.6 million federal disaster recovery grant will fund the replacement of those seven bridges, said Jennifer Meyers, the parish treasurer. That work, including engineering, will be done at no cost to the parish.

The money comes through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a result of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Gilchrist Construction Co. should begin work within a few weeks, Ricks said.

A bridge near the parish’s 911 center on South Satsuma Road will be replaced using federal funding that comes through the state’s Off System Bridge Program and a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program administered by the Governor’s Office.

A second bridge on that road was just replaced as part of the new initiative, Ricks said.

The parish also will replace the Wax Road Bridge with a combination of state and local money, said Digirolamo, who added that work remains several months away.

As cars drive by over that bridge, Jerry Dodson, who lives next to it, says a lot of traffic will have to be rerouted while the work is done.

But he agrees the work is needed, as he points out how the bridge surface is no longer level despite stop-gap work by parish workers.

“They’ve patched it up, patched it up and patched it up,” he said.