UPDATES: Sunshine Bridge closed after barge crash, repair timeline estimated as 'months'

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A DOTD photo shows damage sustained to the Sunshine Bridge after an early morning barge crash.

(UPDATED Friday, October 12, 2018) The Sunshine Bridge will be closed to traffic until further notice.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern and we have to ensure the bridge can safely handle traffic before it’s reopened," said Shawn D. Wilson, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Detour routes across the Mississippi River include the Horace Wilkinson Bridge to the north in Baton Rouge, and Veterans Memorial Bridge to the south in Gramercy.

In response to the bridge closure, the Plaquemine Ferry will operate the second ferry until 10 a.m. and return to service an hour earlier at 1:30 p.m. during the week. Additionally, there will be weekend service an hour earlier at 8 a.m. until further notice.

The following updates have been released by state and local officials (in chronological order):

UPDATE: DOTD press release on Friday, October 12, 2018 at 3:00:03 PM
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) announced that the Sunshine Bridge/LA 70 over the Mississippi River remains closed indefinitely due to the damage caused by a barge collision. DOTD has a contractor in place ready to make temporary repairs in order to reopen the bridge as quickly as possible. We are currently evaluating the damage and the ability to reinstate traffic on the bridge.

LA 70 westbound traffic may detour by heading east on LA 3125, south on LA 3213 and crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and west on LA 3127 to the junction of LA 70.

LA 70 eastbound traffic may detour by heading east on LA 3127, north on LA 3213 and crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and west on LA 3125 to the junction of LA 70.

The second Plaquemine ferry began its afternoon operations today at 1:30 p.m. instead of 3:15 p.m. to accommodate additional traffic due to the bridge closure. It will run to its normal ending time of 7:15 p.m. this evening. Additionally, the weekend ferry will run extra hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. instead of 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

UPDATE: DOTD press release on Sunday, October 14, 2018:

The Sunshine Bridge/LA 70 will remain closed indefinitely due to the damage caused by a barge collision Friday morning. Upon further inspection during the weekend, it has been determined that the damage is extensive and several vital components of the bridge are in need of repair.

“Our hope was to be able to use a portion of the bridge for traffic while emergency repairs were being made,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. “However, that is not the case. We will be working on plans to make the repairs as quickly as possible and will develop a timeline for when the work will be completed. I know this is an inconvenience for the more than 25,000 travelers who use this bridge, but it is not safe to open it to traffic at this time. The Department has worked closely with legislators and local officials to update them on the situation and to try to minimize impacts as much as possible.”

Additionally, because of heavy traffic volume due to the continued closure, the second Plaquemine ferry will operate until 6 p.m. Sunday. The first ferry will continue its extended weekend hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. On weekdays, the second boat will also run an hour longer, until 10 a.m., in the mornings and will start an hour earlier, 1:30 p.m., in the afternoons. The Department will continue to monitor traffic and will adjust as necessary.

Motorists are also encouraged to use the Veterans Memorial Bridge as an alternate river crossing. Motorists should prepare for delays as those who regularly use the Sunshine Bridge will be using alternate routes.

Call 511 or visit www.511la.org for additional travel information. Out-of-state travelers may call 1-800-ROAD-511 (1-800-762-3511). Motorists may also monitor the LA DOTD website at www.dotd.la.gov, by selecting MYDOTD, or by visiting the DOTD Facebook and Twitter pages.

UPDATE: DOTD press release on Monday, October 15, 2018 at 3:47:30 PM:

Sunshine bridge damage extensive, remain closed

Inspections of the Sunshine Bridge/LA 70 concluded that key load-carrying components of the bridge suffered significant damage after a crane on a barge collided with the southwest portion of the bridge on Friday. Because of the extensive damage, permanent repairs to the bridge are necessary prior to reopening it to vehicular traffic. The Department continues to find damage to the structure.

Bridge engineers are in the process of finalizing a design to execute the repairs. Once that design is finalized, successfully modeled and we have a better idea of what resources are needed and available, an estimated timeline for the repair project will be released. At this point, the potential timeline is believed to be months rather than days.

“The damage is to key members of the bridge and has rendered it unsafe to traffic,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. “While we have identified a contractor and are moving forward with expediting this work, it is important to know there is not an easy fix for this kind of damage. There is no temporary fix that will allow us to safely open the bridge.”

The Department will continue to work with local law enforcement and state police to mitigate and refine traffic patterns and detour routes.

During the duration of the Sunshine Bridge closure, additional Plaquemine ferry service hours will be:
Monday through Friday, a second boat will run from 5:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 7p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, the first boat will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, the second boat will run from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
When two ferries are in operation, they are scheduled to depart every 15 minutes. When there is only one, it leaves every 30 minutes (departs Plaquemine at :00 and :30, Sunshine at :15 and :45).

The possibility of reopening the White Castle ferry has been ruled out for several reasons.

There is a lengthy process to implement a new ferry route. River traffic falls under the authority of the U.S. Coast Guard and any additional traffic would require their approval. Additionally, since we no longer have property access to the former landings at White Castle, we would be required to obtain access from landowners and permission to build on the levee by the Corps of Engineers.

Motorists are also encouraged to use the Veterans Memorial Bridge as an alternate river crossing.

Call 511 or visit www.511la.org for additional travel information. Out-of-state travelers may call 1-800-ROAD-511 (1-800-762-3511). Motorists may also monitor the LA DOTD website at www.dotd.la.gov, by selecting MYDOTD, or by visiting the DOTD Facebook and Twitter pages.

UPDATE: St. James Parish Sheriff's Office statement on Monday, October 15, 2018:

Due to the substantial increase in traffic caused by the Sunshine Bridge closing, the sheriff’s office is asking drivers to exercise caution and have patience when seeking alternate routes. The sheriff’s office will be assigning extra duty deputies to assist with traffic flow at the most congested intersections of the parish. Even with the additional deputies helping traffic flow, drivers should still be prepared for traffic congestion due to the large volume of vehicles at peak times. Commuters should prepare for these delays by leaving earlier than normal. Thank you in advance for your patience, and please remember to always be a courteous and cautious driver.

UPDATE: DOTD press release on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 2:30:09 PM

DOTD changes signals to address extra congestion related to Sunshine Bridge closure

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is implementing a new signal-timing sequence at the La. 3127/La. 20 intersection. Technicians will be on site at this intersection to monitor congestion and will operate the signal manually if the new timings are not sufficiently moving traffic.

Technicians will also be staged at the intersections of:

• LA 3125/LA 3213
• LA 3125/LA 3274
• US 61/LA 641

These changes are necessary because of the extra volume on detour routes related to the closure of the Sunshine Bridge, La. 70, after a barge carrying a crane collided with the bridge causing extensive damage to key components of the bridge.

“The collision happened on a Friday and we monitored traffic throughout the weekend,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. “With light weekend traffic and schools being out on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday will be the largest traffic day since the incident occurred. It’s an industry best practice to monitor the traffic patterns after a major incident and adjust accordingly. There is a good chance we will make more adjustments before the bridge is reopened in an effort to minimize impacts where we can. The Department continues to work with local and state law enforcement and elected officials to try and mitigate as much of the congestion as possible. We ask that people who normally use the Sunshine Bridge to plan ahead and be prepared for more congestion than usual on other routes.”

DOTD has also adjusted the Plaquemine ferry schedule.

During the duration of the Sunshine Bridge closure, additional ferry service hours will be:

• Monday thru Friday, a second boat will run from 5:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• Monday thru Friday, the first boat will run 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
• Saturday and Sunday, the first boat will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Saturday and Sunday: the second boat will run from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m

Motorists are also encouraged to use the Veterans Memorial Bridge as an alternate river crossing.

The Sunshine Bridge/LA 70 remains closed indefinitely due to the damage caused by a barge collision Friday morning. DOTD will continue to monitor traffic patterns and adjust the ferry schedule accordingly.

UPDATE: DOTD press release on Friday, October 19, 2018

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced today that its contractor, Coastal Bridge, LLC, is currently mobilizing to be on-site this weekend at the Sunshine Bridge. Coastal Bridge will barge materials and a crane to the site to begin building the platform needed to start repairs under the bridge. The bridge was hit by a crane on a barge on Friday, Oct. 12, and has been closed since then due to safety reasons.

Engineers are finalizing a design and plans for repairs. Once the design and plans are finalized, a timeframe will be announced. Inspections of the bridge concluded that key load-carrying components of the bridge suffered significant damage after a crane on a barge collided with the southwest portion of the bridge. Because of the extensive damage, permanent repairs to the bridge are necessary prior to reopening it to vehicular traffic. DOTD is authorized to spend up to $5 million in repair costs.

“This is an extremely complex repair and the planning and design phase is crucial to ensure the work is done correctly, safely and is the best use of state taxpayer money,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. “Unfortunately, the bridge must remain closed until repairs are made and inspections indicate that it’s safe for use. We recommend that commuters plan for congestion, and we encourage drivers to join the Commuter Krewe of Louisiana for carpooling. Area industries and businesses are also encouraged to adjust employee work schedules as needed to minimize the number of vehicles on the road during peak hours. We certainly appreciate the efforts of Ascension Parish for adjusting school times, and first responders for implementing various plans to address emergency needs.”

The Commuter Krewe website offers a ride-matching database to help commuters find others who live and work nearby to share rides. Go to https://www.commuterkrewe.la/ and sign up. Commuter Krewe is a joint effort of DOTD and the Capital Region Planning Commission. Check out the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CommuterKrewe/

DOTD is pursuing a claim with the company responsible for the bridge damage to seek reimbursement for the cost of repairs. This process will not inhibit the repairs that will be performed on the bridge.

The department has been hosting calls with elected officials, law enforcement agencies, and various groups that frequently use the bridge, such as farmers and the industrial trucking community. DOTD is also providing guidance to area law enforcement agencies for reimbursement of costs associated with unplanned expenditures related to the bridge closure.

Additionally, in order to ease traffic congestion caused by the bridge closure, DOTD is implementing new signal-timing sequences at several intersections. Technicians are on-site at these intersections to monitor congestion and will operate the signal manually if the new timings are not sufficiently moving traffic. These intersections are
LA 3127/LA 20
LA 3125/LA 3213
LA 3125/LA 3274
US 61/LA 641
DOTD has also adjusted the Plaquemine ferry schedule. During the duration of the Sunshine Bridge closure, additional ferry service hours will be

Monday through Friday, the first boat will run from 4:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Monday through Friday, the second boat will run from 5:15 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, the first boat will run from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, the second boat will run from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
When two ferries are in operation, they are scheduled to depart every 15 minutes. When there is only one, it leaves every 30 minutes (departs Plaquemine at :00 and :30, Sunshine at :15 and :45).

Motorists are also encouraged to use the Veterans Memorial Bridge as an alternate river crossing.

Call 511 or visit 511la.org for additional travel information.

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