People who ordinarily take the Sunshine Bridge in Donaldsonville to cross the “Mississippi River” will have to take a round-about route while the bridge is repaired from damages that occurred recently when a barge-mounted crane in the river crashed into the bridge and severely damaged a load-bearing beam. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has a contractor ready to make repairs, but evaluation of the damages was still underway before needed repairs were started.
“Safety is our No. 1 concern and we have to ensure the bridge can safely handle traffic before it‘s reopened,” said Secretary of State Shawn D. Wilson. A 90-second drive between east and west banks of the river became more than an hour-long journey. Highway officials suggested a bridge at Gramercy, 20 miles south, or the ferry at Plaquemine, 28 miles north, could be used, Next closest bridge is in Baton Rouge, which is 33 miles one way to the north
The 1.5-mile long Sunshine Bridge got its name when its was dedicated 54 years ago in a ceremony attended by highway officials, congressmen and our singing Gov. Jimmie Davis, who two decades earlier had recorded the song, “You Are My Sunshine.” At the time, it was the only bridge crossing the river open between Baton Rouge and New Orleans area.
State officials have estimated that the crash, which occurred on Oct. 12 before 2:23 a.m. will take until January to repair. Meanwhile, many workers in industries along the river who relied on the bridge for crossings will have to travel 40 to 50 miles out of their way to meet their needs.
The crane reportedly remained under the Sunshine Bridge for almost four hours after the collision as tugs kept it in position against the Mississippi River currents. The crew pumped water into the barge to lower it and get the crane barge away from the bridge where it was stuck. By 6:01 that morning, it was reportedly away from the bridge.
DOTD officials said the damaged beam carries 1.7 million pounds of stress normally. With the barge damage to the beam, the stress has been moved to other parts of the bridge and put it four inches out of alignment.
Installation of a jack system is scheduled to begin and the bridge is hoped to be jacked back into alignment during November. Workers will then straighten the remaining beam with heat and install the replacement beam. Crews reportedly are currently buying steel for the replacement beam.