DOTD fields questions on bridge closureMar 29th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: News
Representatives from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and the Port of New Orleans fielded questions from St. Bernard residents March 17 concerning the 1 1/2 month closure of the Judge Seeber (Claiborne) Bridge, now in its second full week. Just a hand full residents attended the meeting.
The closure has forced drivers in both St. Bernard and the Lower Ninth Ward to rediscover alternate routes into the city. Alternatives include the Florida Avenue Bridge, the St. Claude Avenue Bridge, both operated by the Port of New Orleans. From Chalmette, drivers may also take Paris Road north to Interstate 10.
After a brief project overview from DOTD’s John Guidry, much of the discussion at the meeting centered on how the Port of New Orleans, which operates the Florida Avenue and St. Claude Avenue Bridges, would balance marine traffic with vehicular traffic. Peter Rusck with Arabi Cab Company provided a prime example of that potential conflict. He said someone with his company recently waited more than a half hour to cross the Florida Avenue Bridge early one morning.
St. Bernard Parish Councilman Mike Ginart, who said he was late to the meeting because the St. Claude Bridge was up, confirmed that his constituents have also expressed similar experiences.
“We’ve had a lot of people call or e-mail about the railroad,” he said.
Ginart said some drivers had reported traveling city-bound on the Florida Avenue Bridge only to be further delayed by a train stopped across the road. Deborah Keller, director of port development for the Port of New Orleans, and DOTD engineer Mike Stack addressed both issues.
Keller said she has been in contact with the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad about trains blocking traffic on Florida Avenue.
“The question I asked was how many trains and how many times a day can cars be blocked,” Keller said. “They wouldn’t admit to how many or what times of day.”
Keller said she has urged the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad to try to avoid blocking Florida Avenue during high traffic times.
On Rusck’s concern, both Keller and Stack said the bridges should always be passable from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 5:45 p.m., except for marine emergencies. Now that the Seeber Bridge is not available, bridge curfews will be more strictly followed, Stack said. Outside of those hours, bridge operators by law must allow marine traffic to pass. In most cases, though, Keller said only one bridge should be up at a time.
“Under normal situations, we have a general agreement among the bridges that no adjacent bridges would open at the same time,” Keller said. “Sometimes the operators get a little trigger happy, because they can’t see one another.”
Keller said drivers can call Harbor Police at (504) 891-7585 to report extended delays at either drawbridge.
State representatives Reed Henderson, Rita Hutter and Charmain Marchand Stiaes were also present for the meeting. Stiaes, who represents the Lower Ninth Ward, asked specifically about bridge operation during emergencies.
“What the process with regard to emergency vehicles coming through?” she asked.
Keller said bridge operators, law enforcement, emergency personnel and St. Bernard government can now talk simultaneously, thanks to radios on loan from St. Bernard’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. That communication will give bridge operators advanced notice that emergency vehicles are en route.
“The beauty of the radios is everyone’s listening,” Keller said.
The Seeber Bridge closed to vehicular traffic March 15 and will remain out of service until the first of May. The extended bridge closure will allow DOTD to perform long-overdue maintenance, including mechanical upgrades, cable replacement and beam repair, Stack said. After reopening in May, the Seeber Bridge will close again in July to allow crews to replace the bridge’s decking. DOTD representatives said that closure will last about 20 days.
The bridge will not receive a paint job, Stack said. Sealing the lead paint on the bridge and repainting the structure would cost between $5 million and $10 million and require a six month closure, he said.
“Everything is structurally sound,” Guidry said. “It’s more of an eyesore.”