Avoyelles Police Jury develops bridge program

 

By Raymond L. Daye
 
They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. That not only stands true for drug addicts, alcoholics and compulsive gamblers. It’s true for police juries, too.
 
The Avoyelles Police Jury has taken that all-important first step  when it comes to addressing the infuriating, aggravating and embarrassing issue of substandard bridges. Jurors say they are serious about ensuring that bridges are properly inspected and repaired in a timely manner. They demonstrated that resolve at the April 14 meeting by adopting an action plan to “keep on top” of the bridge inspection and maintenance responsibilities.
 
Jury President Charles Jones said the jury was caught flat-footed and unaware when state bridge inspectors hit town and immediately started issuing warnings and bridge closures. 
 
“Never again” is the new mantra around the courthouse these days.
 
During the jury’s committee meetings  April 8, jurors reviewed the lessons learned from this past month’s events. They took official action April 14 based on those lessons.
 
Jones said there are 95 parish bridges in the Off-System Bridge Program -- which means they are parish-owned bridges that are at least 20 feet long. There are many more smaller structures and culvert-crossings that do not fall into that program, he noted. Of the 95 “that we have to worry about,” 45 are timber bridges.
 
Jones said the concrete bridges pose no threat of closure -- barring a major accident or natural disaster. However, aging timber bridges pose a safety hazard to those using them and the greatest potential for another closure order from the state bridge inspectors.
 
“We are trying to balance two balls with our bridge program,” Jones told jurors. “On one hand, we have to maintain our bridges. On the other, we have to keep to an inspection schedule.”
 
He said the inspection program “must be the cornerstone of our bridge program.”
 
Jones said the parish must have employees on staff that can inspect the bridges -- most of which have to be inspected every six months.
It is also imperative that the employees doing those inspections are able to identify a problem in need of attention before the state inspector comes back in two years and flags it.
 
Inspection  contract
After reminiscing over the recent bad old times with bridge closures, jurors decided to “kick start” the inspection program by contracting with Pan American Engineers -- who serves as the parish engineer -- to conduct many of the six-month inspections of timber bridges.
 
“We will use those inspections to build our maintenance program,” Jones promised. “I’m not saying we will get to them the next day, or even the next week or the next month, but we will be able to schedule the repairs and be ahead of the game when the state bridge inspectors come back in two years.”
 
The DOTD will be having its new and improved “Road Scholar” training program available in August, and Jones said the state has promised Avoyelles a few seats at the table for that training. Completion of the program is required for an employee to be certified to inspect the bridges.
 
The Pan American inspections will also be used in preparation for that training.
 
“When the engineer goes out to inspect the bridges, two selected employees will go with him,” Jones said. 
 
The inspection will become an in-field classroom, with parish employees learning from the engineer what issues to look for when they are doing an inspection. Jones expects the employees attending Road Scholar to do very well in the class due to the training they will have received from being  with the engineer on local inspections.
 
The parish will pay Pan American about $90 an hour for the inspections. That cost would include travel time.
 
Ron Bordelon, of Pan American, said it would be inefficient and uneconomical to call the engineer from Alexandria to Avoyelles for one bridge. He proposed that the engineer will inspect three or four bridges -- which would take about a half day -- per trip to Avoyelles.
 
Juror Wayne Gremillion, a former parish bridge inspector, will ramrod the inspection program to ensure that it gets started on the right foot and does not get sidetracked. The action plan adopted last week puts him in charge of the “oversight” segment of the plan.
 
Jones said that once the inspection program is in place, parish officials will be able to “sit down with these inspection reports, say ‘This is what we found’ and schedule those repairs.  Then, when DOTD comes back in two years, we will be in a better situation instead of just having to react to situations as they occur.”

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