Sunshine Bridge project expected to be complete in early 2016; lanes open in late ‘15

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley

As the project nears a year, there has been a lot of commotion since the start of $25.1 million project to clean, paint and perform needed structural steel repairs to the main spans of the Sunshine Bridge, which crosses between St. James and Ascension parishes.

According to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the repair and paintwork will help to maintain the integrity of the structure and the La. 70 corridor, an important link to approximately 22,000 daily motorists.

Mike Ricca, project engineer with Gulf Engineers and Consultants Inc., iterated the bridge really needed to be painted and understands the timing of the project isn’t convenient for the development around the bridge. However, with weather permitting the project could be complete in late 2015 to early 2016 and all lanes could be open in late 2015.

“You can see some of it from above, but underneath the bridge the paint is old. We have areas that really need to be addressed where the coating is. There comes a time in every project where if you don’t do it, the cost goes up dramatically and we were probably at that point,” Ricca said. “It needed to be done. It’s never a convenient time to do that, but it’s certainly could not have been delayed very long.”

To help alleviate traffic flow on the east side of the bridge, the DOTD installed a U-turn lane off the foot of the bridge, which will remain there permanently even after the bridge’s project is complete.

“That was put in mostly with the issue of trucks trying to make that U-turn,” Ricca said.

There are other things Ricca and the DOTD are trying to determine to help with the lighting issues with the equipment on the bridge and the “tunnel” that gets dark.

“We’re still trying to resolve that issue to brighten that up some so it’s not such a dramatic transition,” Ricca said. “We really don’t have a good solution for that at this point.”

Ricca anticipates a completion of the project to be early 2016 and added the majority of the work is the painting, removal and replacement.

“We are doing some bearing work down below under the bridge that will probably extend past the painting,” Ricca said. “It won’t be in the travel ways except for some minor lane closures but it really should not affect traffic at all. When the painting is done, we’ll open all four lanes again. It’ll be pretty much complete even though the project won’t be finalized.”

Ricca said as the project get towards the end of the painting job, the lane shift will go from the side it’s on now to the opposite side because of the issues presented with accidents early on with trucks hitting the scaffolding and “we had to change the procedure for how we’re going to address the low beams on the side people are driving on now.”

“Once that happens, we are close to being done with the painting which is a marker they might want to watch for,” Ricca said.

Dustin Annison, DOTD Public Information Officer, said the lane closure must maintain in place to allow space for crews and equipment and give crews a buffer zone between where they’re working and drivers crossing the bridge,” Annison said.

According to Annison, the DOTD and Ricca have minimized traffic delays by practicing proper incident management techniques, including “regular communication with local police agencies, traffic signal adjustments, and the utilization of portable message signs throughout the project.”

Annison also said the bridge is safe and there have been no surprises as the project has progressed.

“If it was determined that the bridge was unsafe, DOTD would shut it down until proper repairs are complete,” Annison said.

Since January 2008, over $1.3 billion has been invested on 462 projects to repair and/or replace bridges in Louisiana. Crews with North Star Painting Co. are repairing and repainting support trusses on the metal cantilever bridge.