Emergency repairs to the Surrey Street bridge over the Vermilion River near Lafayette Regional Airport will force of the closure of the bridge for nearly a month. The closure, following the execution of a contract with a Lafayette engineering and construction firm, is expected to begin July 12 and end on Aug. 10. On Tuesday the City-Parish Council approved an emergency ordinance transferring $350,000 from two bridge-repair funds and from surplus money from the Camellia Boulevard extension project to bankroll the Surrey Street bridge repair project.

Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Traffice and Transportation Department will brief Surrey Street business owners on the project at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 1 at the Lafayette Public Library’s main branch downtown. The department will also issue press releases about detour routes in the coming days.

In a Monday e-mail to Public Works Director Tom Carroll and Associate Director Pat Logan, City Engineer Mitch Wyble details four problems with the span including failing embankments on both the east and west approaches that are compromising the road surface, the rocker bearing mechanism that allows the bridge to move freely has jammed, and several areas of concrete railing on the bridge have been damaged and need to be repaired.

The bridge was built in the mid 20th century and designed for a much lighter traffic load.

“In those days, they didn’t build approach slabs,” explains Logan. “They built a road and they built a bridge in between. And what has happened is the approach has washed out ... so we’re going to have to redo that and do it how it’s done in current times.”

The project is also on the fast track because the the 2010-2011 school year is looming — students report on Aug. 12 — and the Lafayette Parish School System’s bus depot is near the bridge; a closure during the school year could pose a logistical nightmare for the LPSS’ transportation system.

But the overriding motivation is safety, says Logan. “What the structural engineers who looked at it said was, [the bridge] is likely to fail — not tomorrow, not next week, but in the foreseeable future. And if it fails, we’ll lose the bridge, it’s going to go in the river. So, we’re going to take all the appropriate steps to get it fixed.”

The closure is sure to cause headaches for commuters who live on the east side of the thruway near Pinhook Road. Because there’s no left turn onto the thruway from westbound Pinhook, Surrey Street has been the common route to getting from that part of town to Highway 90/Evangeline Thruway. Traffic and Transportation Director Tony Tramel has decided that temporarily allowing a left turn onto the thruway from Pinhook would create more problems than it would address, according to Logan, so Tramel’s department is determining viable detour routes.

The 2.2-mile stretch of Surrey Street between Highway 90 and Jefferson Boulevard (near what old-time Lafayette residents call Pontiac Point) is among just over six miles of roadway LCG took over from the state in December 2008 in a deal to get the Ambassador South extension built; the state Department of Transportation and Development has a statutory limit on how many miles of road statewide it can be responsible for, so in order to get the six-plus mile stretch of Ambassador built, LCG had to take up some DOTD slack.

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