After more than a year of hurricane-forced delays, the Lewis Street Bridge over Bayou Teche in New Iberia is scheduled to open to traffic by Dec. 7, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
Boh Bros. Construction Co. began construction on the vertical lift span bridge on March 21, 2004, and was scheduled to complete the $13.3 million project by September 2006.
However, Hurricane Katrina caused major damage that forced a shutdown on the project. Also, Boh’s crews on the project were needed for emergency bridge work on the Interstate 10 twin span bridge in New Orleans. It took several months for crews to return to the New Iberia site and inspect equipment to determine if it could be refurbished or would have to be re-fabricated.
The inspections showed that Katrina had destroyed the fabrication plant where the mechanical equipment was being produced and stored. Salt water intrusion from the storm also damaged the bridge bearings, which had to be shipped back to a Swedish fabricator for repairs. All of the delays essentially set the project back about 17 months.
Even after critical path work resumed on the bridge in December 2006, more problems appeared. Some of the refurbished bearings had moisture damage and had to be sent off a second time for cleaning.
The damage to the project and the delays it caused were unavoidable, explained DOTD Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry, but the department should have done a better job communicating those problems to the public.
“It’s frustrating enough to people in New Iberia to see completion of this bridge delayed for such a long time,” Bradberry said. “The delays were legitimate, but our failure to communicate is unacceptable. We have addressed that issue, and we now are taking steps to make sure citizens are in the loop.”