Equipment breakdown closes eastbound I-20 bridge

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2001

Motorists cross the U.S. 80 bridge this morning after it was opened briefly for light traffic coming from Louisiana after the eastbound lane of the Interstate 20 bridge was closed because of an equipment failure during overnight maintenance.(The Vicksburg Post/ MELANIE DUNCAN)

[10/19/01]The failure of a jack being used to lift one side of the Interstate 20 bridge resulted in one lane being closed to traffic and vehicles being limited on the other side.

To help alleviate problems for people needing to reach Vicksburg from Louisiana, the old U.S. 80 Bridge was opened to light, eastbound traffic this morning. But as soon as the gates on the old bridge were opened, Louisiana authorities shut down the approach on the west side, again leaving eastbound traffic stalled.

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The 71-year-old U.S. 80 bridge has been closed to vehicular traffic for three years because of problems with the decking.

Don Tolar, administrator in the Monroe district office of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said a seal blew out on one of two hydraulic jacks being used to lift the eastbound lanes of the I-20 bridge at about 2 this morning. Workers were lifting the bridge in preparation for resetting the bearings on top of the first pier on the Mississippi side of the river.

Since the damaged jack left the bridge partially raised off the pier, traffic had to be halted in the eastbound lanes, Tolar said. A limited amount of traffic was allowed to use the westbound lanes.

Billy Wilson, secretary of the Vicksburg Bridge Commission which operates the old bridge, said the old bridge was opened to one-way car and pickup traffic from Louisiana to Mississippi just before 9 a.m. He also said the vehicles were being limited to no more than 30 mph.

Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said just after the old bridge was opened, Louisiana officials closed the west approach.

“They gave me two reasons,” Leyens said. “They told me they don’t have the manpower to divert traffic and the Department of Transportation had not inspected the approaches and they could not take the responsibility.”

At midmorning, Leyens said he was still trying to solve the problems.

Tolar said six additional bridge jacks were being brought to the I-20 bridge from New Orleans and they were expected to arrive at about 2 p.m.

“It should take them about an hour or an hour and a half to jack the bridge up and get it stabilized,” Tolar said.

He estimated LDOTD should be able to reopen the bridge by about 3 or 3:30 p.m.

Repairs on the bearings are scheduled to be completed between midnight tonight and 3 a.m. Saturday.

There was some backup of traffic but it was not bad, said law enforcement officials in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“We do security at the rest areas from midnight to 6 a.m., and the deputy there said it wasn’t all that bad,” said Sammie Byrd, chief criminal deputy with the Madison Parish Sheriff’s Department.

Warren Strain, a spokesman with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, said essentially the same thing.

Both said it appeared motorists were quickly made aware of the situation and were taking alternate routes across the Mississippi River at Natchez and Greenville.