Barge strikes Louisiana highway bridge, causing severe damage

A barge struck and heavily damaged a Louisiana swing bridge, which had to be closed for months.

The barge, towed by the 76-foot St. Thomas, struck the pilings of the La. 77 highway bridge near Grosse Tete on Feb. 28, damaging the structure that crosses the Lower Grand River. Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received a report about the accident at 2230. Marquette Transportation Co. in New Orleans owns the tug.

“The barge, moving upriver after dark, collided with the bridge pilings,” leaving the swing bridge inoperable, said Indira Parrales, a spokeswoman with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Rebuilding the span should take about three months. The repair contractor, Pennsylvania-based Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., has demolished much of the structure.

The river is part of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The incident is under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Louisiana Highway 77 is the main route from the city of Plaquemine in Iberville Parish to northern communities, including Grosse Tete. The road parallels Bayou Grosse Tete.

“We have removed the damaged fender system and bridge span, evaluated the condition of electrical systems and secured all electrical components,” Parrales said in late March. “We completed the redesign of the new span and have started the layout and template construction for new piling installation.” The completion date will depend on water level fluctuations, weather and the availability of needed materials.

On March 8, the parish and the state started a temporary ferry service, carrying six passengers at a time, so residents can get to work and school, said Laurie Doiron, Iberville Parish director for homeland security and emergency preparedness. The service, which starts a half-mile downstream from the bridge, runs from 0500 to 0900 and 1430 to 1930 daily.

The ferry is a 26-foot pontoon boat, owned by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and operated in partnership with Iberville Parish. The vessel is a 2013 Premier, built by Premier Marine Inc. in Minnesota. It carries pedestrians only.

“More than 20 people a day are using the ferry,” Doiron said. “Since it doesn’t carry cars, two-car families are leaving a vehicle on each side of the river.” Crossing the river without the ferry, while the bridge is out, involves a 40-mile detour.

Because of hazards associated with bridge repairs and ferry operations, the Lower Grand River is closed daily to all vessel traffic from 0500 to 1100 and from 1400 to 1930 until Aug. 1, the Coast Guard said. During those times when the river is open, marine traffic in the area is advised to proceed at the slowest safe speed and to stay at a safe distance from construction equipment.

By Professional Mariner Staff