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Louisiana National Guard airlifts needed repair equipment to site

MISSISSIPPI STATE HIGHWAY PATROLMAN GENE DALHART, center, talks to Major William Brannan, right, of the Louisiana National Guard Friday after the Guard landed a Black Hawk helicopter near the Mississippi River bridge. Brannan and three other guardsmen flew in from New Orleans via helicopter to deliver hydraulic jacks to continue repairs to the bridge.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[10/20/01]Interstate 20 looked more like a parking lot than a highway Friday afternoon and early evening after the I-20 Mississippi River bridge had to be completely shut down for repairs.

Traffic in the westbound lanes was bumper-to-bumper from the bridge to the Clay Street exit after both westbound lanes were closed around 4:20 p.m. The eastbound lanes were closed all day after equipment being used to repair the bridge broke early Friday morning.

After the westbound lanes closed, motorist were allowed to travel over the bridge as work permitted, but were kept at a slow pace.

Traffic in both directions resumed around 8 p.m. after repairs were completed, but was limited to one lane in the eastbound lanes while both westbound lanes were re-opened.

One eastbound lane will remain closed indefinitely because of painting on the bridge that has been ongoing since July.

“They’ll be out there (Saturday) removing some beams put in for the repairs,” said Don Tolar, an administrator for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. “But it won’t affect traffic.”

Crews were repairing the bridge around 2 a.m. Friday when a large hydraulic jack being used to lift the roadbed off the first pier of the bridge on the Mississippi side of the river failed. That left the lanes suspended off the bearings and unstable, forcing the initial lane closings.

Tolar, administrator in the Monroe District office of LDOTD, said that new jacks had to be flown in from New Orleans before work could continue on the bridge.

About 1 p.m. a Louisiana National Guard helicopter landed in the eastbound lane of I-20 just east of Washington Street bringing five new jacks from New Orleans.

Crews continued to be plagued with difficulties even after the new jacks arrived because of the broken jack stuck between the roadbed and the pier.

“They had problems getting (the broken jack) out,” Tolar said.

Attempts had been made early Friday to divert light traffic to the 71-year-old U.S. 80 bridge. Louisiana officials soon blocked the west bridge approach saying they did not have the manpower to divert traffic and the bridge approach had not been inspected.

The 71-year-old bridge has not been used in three years due to deterioration of the roadway.

Vicksburg officials spent most of the day trying to make arrangements with Louisiana officials.

“I spent all day trying to get a hold of (Louisiana Gov.) Mike Foster and couldn’t get him,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

Work on the I-20 bridge was needed because the pier has shifted about 6 inches to the west, similar to the shift in Pier 2 on the U.S. 80 Bridge, which has also moved nearly 6 inches since 1997.

The repair process involves completely lifting one side of the bridge roadbed off its supports and moving the bearings so that they align with the pier again.

The repairs to the bearings under the westbound lanes, which the department planned for this work session also, have been delayed until later.

“We’re going to have a meeting to discuss what was done wrong and what was done right first,” Tolar said.

About 22,000 cars cross the Mississippi River on the I-20 bridge daily.

Vehicles were being detoured off I-20 at Tallulah, La., onto Louisiana 65, officials said. The nearest crossing of the Mississippi River are in Greenville to the north or Natchez to the south. Either are nearly an extra 100 miles.