Little River Bridge: A priority that is just out of reach

Avoyelles Police Jury hoping state will release bridge replacement funds soon

Although Little River Road was finally repaired with federal funds, after a lengthy battle to acquire all necessary right-of-way easements, the Avoyelles Police Jury is still fighting a battle to get state funds to replace the wooden bridge on that road. The bridge has been approved and then postponed several times.

Meanwhile parish officials have to hold their breath every time a major rainstorm screams through the parish because about 50 homes and camps on the “wrong” side of the bridge have no other access to civilization.

In 2012, the state said the project was approved under its Offsystem Bridge Replacement Program -- a state program that seeks to eventually replace maintenance problem timber bridges with concrete structures.

Oops. You need to acquire right of ways.

The last right of way was acquired in 2014 and the jury was ready to celebrate the start of the bridge replacement.

Oops. The environmental impact statement the state had done had expired and the state said the parish had to pay for an updated report.

That was done and late last year it appeared the project’s final documents were about to be signed.

Oops. Did you know there are some ancient Indian mounds over there?

Parish Engineer Ron Bordelon said representatives of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe are aware of those mounds and have told parish officials the mounds have been fully excavated and hold no additional archaeological value.
In any event, the parish’s position is that the proposed bridge work would be done within the same “footprint” as the existing bridge and wouldn’t cause any more impact to the mounds than the original bridge construction or the more recent federally-funded road work. Despite those assurances, the state has currently scheduled a “cultural resources survey” for that area April 26.

LACK OF FUNDING

The real problem with getting the state to release the estimated $450,000 to replace the bridge is that there may be nothing there to release.

Bordelon said he has told state officials with the Bridge Replacement Program that Little River Bridge is the parish’s top priority and the parish is willing to use its entire annual allocation to get that project done, if that would help speed release of the funds. The parish usually has three or four small bridge projects each year.

Police Juror Mark Borrel, who represents the area around the bridge, said the failure of that bridge is one of the parish’s nightmare scenarios.

“There are more people on the other side of the bridge than you might think,” Borrel said. “Some of those are camps, but there are a lot of homes and families that depend on that bridge.”

Bordelon said the bridge passed its last state inspection. Parish crews washing off the decking earlier this month discovered and replaced a few rotten boards. Maintenance of the wooden bridges is an ongoing struggle -- especially for those that are 30, 40 or 50 years old.

Bordelon said that if the Little River Bridge replacement was delayed until it finally failed a state inspection, the parish would have to immediately close the bridge. It is unlikely the state would take into consideration that the bridge would have been replaced had state funding been released in a timely manner.

NO ALTERNATIVE ROUTE

There is no immediate alternative land route to reach homes and property on the other side of the bridge or for those on that side of the bridge to get out.

“There are some land ways, but they are not accessible by normal vehicles,” Bordelon said.

There have been worst-case planning sessions. Options floated include a temporary ferry and asking the Army to set up a combat bridge to carry traffic over the river until a permanent bridge could be constructed. It has not been determined if either of those options would actually be possible or feasible.

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