Bridge project halted for safety issue

HOUSTON The problem is on the northbound side of the new Buffalo Speedway bridge over Sims Bayou. It's tough to see, but the Harris County Flood Control District says the issue is a big enough deal to halt construction -- if only temporarily -- to look for a way to ensure the bridge will be safe when completed.

Construction on the Buffalo Speedway bridge was stopped last fall when inspectors noticed sagging in the center portion of the northbound bridge.

"It's a safety issue," explained Heather Saucier with the Harris County Flood Control District. "It may not seem like a lot to the average person, but it is a safety issue."

It's a danger because the sagging led to ponding of water, which could cause hydroplaning for motorists. That's not a good thing when you are above a bayou.

Nearby resident Edna Deauvearo said, "I just couldn't believe it. I mean, how can you mess up so greatly when you're supposed to be professionals?"

This is a $3.5 million project. Replacing the bridge is a necessary part of the larger Sims Bayou improvement project. It was supposed to be done last February.

"Oh, God! You talk about patience is a virtue... I can't do anything but wait," complained area resident Deloris Jones.

Those living nearby are anxious for the project's completion. Since the old bridge closed here, some complain about increased traffic detouring through their neighborhood rumbling down their street. Deauvearo says one vehicle was so heavy, driving so fast, that vibrations broke a window at her home.

She said, "My frustration level is high, very high."

Neighbors want to know what caused the problem. That's something the flood control district can't answer.

"That has not yet been determined," Saucier said.

Something else the flood control district can't, or won't, say is what led to the problem in the first place.

"We asked whose fault it was," recalled Deauvearo. "They said, 'We don't know.'"

Nor do officials know exactly how much it might cost to fix it. We're told repairs should be completed by February 2009. It sounds like they might have to make a number of modifications to the bridge, not the least of which is repouring concrete for the center span of the northbound lanes. Preliminary estimates put the cost of those repairs at up to $1 million.

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