Malfunctioning Popp’s Ferry bridge interrupts evening traffic

A malfuctioning locking device on the Popp’s Ferry Bridge kept motorists from crossing the bridge for an hour late Tuesday afternoon.

The problem occurred after a bridgetender raised the draw at 6:01 p.m. to allow a tug pushing eight barges to pass. When the bridgetender lowered the spans at 6:27 p.m., the locking device, which secures the spans for vehiclular traffic, apparently failed to engage.

Moments later, the tender had to raise the span to allow a second tug, pushing two coal barges, to pass.

The locking device failed to engage a second time, and traffic was not allowed to cross the bridge until 7 p.m., after it was inspected by city Public Works technicians.

Although the bridge was re-opened to motorists, technicians continued to investigate the malfuction. The locking device, which normally takes 20 seconds to engage, required an additional 2 minutes to engage during a raising of the span shortly after 8 Tuesday night.

City technicians and contractors are expected to inspect the bridge again Wednesday to ensure it is operating properly.

“This entire episode illustrates the need for a new and higher bridge to serve Popp’s Ferry traffic,” said Mayor A.J. Holloway, who noted that the city has an environmental assessment underway to identify the best option to replace the two-lane bridge.

In fact, the city held its first public presentation on the issue this month, gathering public comments on proposals.

“This low-level bridge carries an average of 20,000 vehicles a day, and it has to open about 10 times a day for marine traffic,” Holloway said. “This is a public safety issue. We cannot afford to have something like this happen in times of evacuation. As it is, we have to open this bridge as many as 23 times a day when boats have to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. That’s a recipe for trouble.”

Holloway began working to secure funds for a new bridge in March 2004, when he traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for funds for an evironmental assessement, which is required to identify the best solution for replacing the bridge. The $750,000 environmental assessement is expected to be completed in several months.

“Our next step,” Holloway said, “is to work to secure the tens of millions of dollars needed to replace this bridge. Fortunately or unfortunately, this latest episode demonstrates the need for a new bridge.”

More online

—To read a brochure with maps and background on the environmental assessment now underway for the bridge and its approaches, click here.

—To read the city’s original case for improvements to the Popp’s Ferry bridge, a document the mayor hand-delivered to Washington, D.C. in 2004, click here.