September 7, 2003
LAFAYETTE – Large boats traveling along the Vermilion River should have no problem passing under the Camellia Bridge.
Most bridges in Acadiana are the common fixed span bridges, which cross the bayous and smaller channels of the area. But if a larger waterway is considered to be navigable, any bridge built over it must allow for vessels to pass beneath it.
Tom Carroll, capital improvements manager for Lafayette Consolidated Government, said of the Camellia Bridge, “The way we look at it is that it’s a manually lifted bridge.”
Carroll said that since the Vermilion River is still considered a navigable waterway, Lafayette Consolidated Government had to discuss the bridge with the Coast Guard in 1996. The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the river and must retain navigable clearances along it. The Coast Guard approved of the idea of a manual lift bridge.
Carroll said two types of bridges were considered — a mechanical lift bridge and a manual lift bridge. The price tag for the mechanical bridge was between $7 million and $8 million, and the manual lift was only $4 million.
Carroll said that there are two span bridges along the Vermilion in Lafayette, with one on Pinhook Road and the other on Ambassador Caffery Parkway. Both of those bridges, unlike the Camellia Bridge, are mechanical lift bridges, not manual.
Bill Fontenot, district administrator for the Department of Transportation and Development, said the bridges at Ambassador Caffery and Pinhook are lifted once a month for routine maintenance, usually on Sunday afternoons for 30 minutes to an hour.
Since 1995, the Ambassador Caffery bridge has been lifted 27 times and the Pinhook bridge has been lifted only seven times to allow vessels to pass on the river.
Carroll said that pleasure boats make up the majority of traffic along the Vermilion River. However, one rig from Abbeville which builds bulkheads does travel the river frequently and Carroll said it will have no problem with clearance beneath the bridge. Carroll said that particular vessel requires a clearance of 16 feet.
“Even if we were in a high water condition on the Vermilion, we would still have sufficient room with the conditions we currently have,” he said. Carroll also added that when the river stage rises to flood levels, the river is closed for navigation anyway.
But what if a larger vessel does make its way down the Vermilion and it needs to make its way under the bridge?
Carroll said that Lafayette Consolidated Government requires a five-day notice before lifting the bridge. “That would allow us ample opportunity to secure the service of hydraulic cranes to get out there and lift that bridge,” he said.
Carroll said that for the test lift of the bridge, two cranes were used — a 350-ton crane and a 500-ton crane. The removable, center section of the bridge weighs 290 tons. “Those cranes they had out there lifted it very easily,” Carroll said.
But with the sufficient clearance beneath the bridge, the likelihood of every having to lift it is slim.
“There’s always that possibility that you may have to open it,” Carroll said, “but we just don’t see that happening.”