Bridge construction moving quickly, if not traffic

Bridge construction moving quickly, if not traffic

Anyone traveling between Orange County and Jefferson County along Interstate 10 has seen the cranes and big orange signs. Construction of the new Purple Heart Memorial Bridge, also known as the Neches River Bridge, is well underway and on schedule, according to Marc Shepherd, communication specialist at the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT).

“The contractor is moving along quickly.” Shepherd said. “It’s not a difficult project. They’re a lot further along than expected.”

The contractor has plenty of reasons to move quickly on the project — around five million reasons. Houston-based Williams Brothers Construction Company could earn up to $5 million in incentives for completing the project quickly. Different phases of the construction would earn the contractor bonuses, like the $2.5 million potential incentive for early completion of the phase of the project involving the closing of the downtown ramp from I-10. The total cost of the project is estimated at $60-$62 million in federal and state funds, according to Shepherd. He said federal funds would provide approximately 80 percent to the state’s 20 percent contribution for the construction of the new bridge.

TXDOT has already closed one of the three eastbound lanes of I-10 leading up to the bridge and plans to close the entire eastbound side of the bridge. The construction company will be removing the entire eastbound section of the bridge in late November or early December, according to Shepherd. He said they will create four lanes on the westbound side of the bridge, two for eastbound traffic and two for westbound traffic. By doing so, the shoulders of the road would be eliminated, which could cause some issues, particularly regarding disabled vehicles.

“A flat tire or something could have a significant impact on traffic with no shoulders there,” Shepherd said.

Regarding the possibility of traffic woes for commuters, Shepherd said to expect delays during the construction.

“There’s more congestion already,” Shepherd stated. “There’s a delay, especially during rush-hour traffic.”

When the eastbound side of the bridge comes down, the downtown ramp leading to I-10 East will close. Drivers will be forced to detour to MLK, turn there and take that ramp to I-10 East. Shepherd said traffic will likely get backed up there, and TXDOT is taking measures to minimize the impact. He said they are looking into changing the timing of the light cycles at the intersection there to take care of any potential problems.

The massive endeavor is projected to last a total of 28 months, and construction started in July, so residents have about two years to go, according to Shepherd. He said the new high-mast lighting for the bridge was already installed in September and was not originally expected to be ready until this month.