By Juanice Gray
Bridges don’t last forever.
That is the one thing citizens and DOTD officials agreed upon at the Cane River Bridge Church Street public meeting Dec. 7.
The open forum meeting drew 65-70 members of the public according to DOTD Public Information Officer Erin Buchanan. Attendees had the opportunity to pose their questions and concerns, informally and/or in writing, to DOTD officials after viewing a brief presentation on the project. Buchanan said data from the comment sheets submitted at the meeting is important. “We won’t release comment info until later in the environmental process,” she said.
You don’t just go build a bridge because one is need. That is the second aspect of the project all parties agreed upon.
There is a process, a lengthy one. “The environmental process lasts several years,” Buchanan said. “The reason is to ensure everything is properly vetted. It is very important that we get the public input, have multiple public meetings to have an end result that is the best for the people of Natchitoches and has the least environmental impact.” The project is in Stage 1 of 6. Completion of Stage 1, the planning and environmental study that was initiated in 1998, is slated for completion in spring 2019. Estimated construction is tentatively slated for January 2024.
Why so long? Consultant Dax Doucet said public outcry put the project on hold in 2003. The project was restarted in 2015. How to go about replacing the 80-plus year old bridge. All main elements of the bridge are deteriorating as the bridge exceeds its expected life span. Inspections are done every six months to ensure the bridge is safe for motor traffic. The alternatives of the replacement are where the variables, and opinions, come into play.
Here are the preliminary alternatives:
•Replace bridge utilizing a temporary bridge (1) at Highland Park Drive or (2) at Touline Street. Estimated cost: $8-9 million. Time frame: Up to two years
Cost of temporary bridge construction alone: $2.5-3 million
•Replace bridge utilizing staged construction (closing one lane while maintaining traffic on one lane) Estimated cost: $6-8 million Time Frame: Up to two years
•Tear existing bridge down and rebuilding. (no temporary bridge) Estimated cost: $6 million Time frame: 10-11 months
•Permanent bridge: keep same alignment or skew 3 degrees to align with St. Clair intersection.
Questions concerning the temporary bridges ran the gamut from concerns about the historic district, rights of way on private property, noise, increased traffic, cost and safety. The Highland Park alternative would be from Highland Park Drive to Williams Avenue. One couple who live near the proposed site on Williams voiced their concerns about the bridge ending in a curve thereby creating a possible turning hazard. The bridge would also cause a residential relocation where construction has already begun on a single family residence. On the Highland Park side, concerns include existing commercial buildings. The Touline Street concerns include the impact on the existing sewer lift station, waterfront access and destruction of a portion of the newly renovated riverbank, including the Santa House. DOTD officials stated anyone, private or commercial, whose property would be impacted by the temporary bridges would be compensated.
Doucet also stated the riverbank would be returned to its previous condition after the bridge was completed. The temporary bridges would be removed. DOTD also addressed traffic congestion concerns. “We will try to mitigate the traffic signage and lights to assist in directing traffic. A plan would be in place,” Doucet said. Other things the DOTD is considering are vibration from construction and the impact on the structures on Front Street and at the temporary sites and the noise level effect on businesses and residents. “There are pros and cons to every alternative,” Buchanan said. “We have to do thorough research to determine the best route to take.”
At the end of the process, once the environmental studies are complete, the project will conclude with a solution that can’t be changed.