An $11.7 million state highway project to replace the La. 20 bridge in lower St. James and upper Lafourche parishes with a wider, safer one is gearing up, parish officials said.
A state highway contractor is preparing to build a temporary access road and bridge over Bayou Chevreuil running parallel to the old bridge being replaced, officials said this week.
The replacement is the first part of a plan to widen not only the bridge over Bayou Chevreuil but also the narrow two-lane highway that cuts through the swamps between southern Vacherie and La. 307 in Lafourche Parish, state highway plans show.
The state Department of Transportation and Development hasn't awarded a contract for the highway widening yet.
Passing through Chackbay, La. 20 links western St. James with the Thibodaux and Houma areas, serving as a link for bayou residents to reach plants along the Mississippi River and Interstate 10 northwest of I-310. The bridge is on the parish line between St. James and Lafourche.
In March, DOTD awarded the bridge job to contractor TL Hawk, which beat out three other firms, bid documents say. St. James Parish officials said work on the replacement bridge will begin this month and is expected to last into 2021.
Ed Becnel, a Vacherie native who chaired a parish task force that helped press for widening La. 20, said his group collected parish and state data showing the bridge and highway were well above the state averages for crashes and fatalities.
VACHERIE — Two Vacherie residents died in a crash Thursday morning when one driver crossed the center line at the crest of a bridge in St. Jam…
A September 2015 head-on crash on the old bridge that killed both drivers helped galvanize public sentiment, Becnel said.
He said Shawn Wilson, state DOTD secretary, promised his group the state would find money for the highway if the group could find a way to finance preconstruction costs.
The St. James and Lafourche parish governments have kicked in that money, Becnel said, and he's glad to see the efforts of the task force — with the help of former St. James Councilman Eddie Kraemer and local legislators — coming to fruition.
"It’s a real example of when people all choose to work together, you can get something done," Becnel said.
The new two-lane concrete bridge and the wider highway will have 12-foot-wide lanes with 8-foot-wide shoulders. The new bridge will also be longer and have a lower crest, offering drivers a better view of oncoming traffic.
Part of the preparation for the bridge construction will require St. James Parish government to partially close a boat launch on the bayou, starting on Monday.
The construction job will require heavy equipment, a laydown yard and construction materials to be placed around the boat launch, parish officials said.
One of the launch slips will still remain open, but officials also warned that parking will be limited and urged boaters to use a different launch for the interim.
St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne said officials understood the inconvenience but asked people "to remain patient and understanding as we work together with DOTD and contractors in the area."