By Luke Britt/Editor
A project to replace a pair of failing culverts on Burma Road is turning out to be one of the more difficult projects the Union Parish Police Jury has attempted this year and may well be the parish’s most expensive culvert project ever.
After months of trying to locate a contractor willing to undertake the difficult project, on Tuesday the Police Jury voted to declare the Burma Road culverts an emergency road maintenance project.
“Normally, we can replace a culvert for anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, but this is going to cost maybe a hundred times that,” Juror Ben Bridges said.
A preliminary estimate from road engineer Paul Riley said the cost of the project could be more than $600,000.
The jury learned of the severity of the problem in May when heavy rains washed out the road above two metal culverts that Bridges said were probably installed more than 30 years ago. The culverts have developed cracks and holes so severe that they are becoming filled with dirt. During heavy rains, rather than flow freely through the culverts, water is being channeled through those holes into the surrounding earth and is eroding the ground that supports the road.
There are about 20 homes on Burma Road, which begins at Kyle Road and runs parallel to the lake shore for a little less than a mile before dead-ending. There is only one way in and out of the area, and there are no side streets.
“It’s pretty clear this is going to keep happening, and when that road washes out completely, anyone living on that road is going to be stranded,” Bridges said.
The hilly terrain around Burma Road is what’s complicating matters. Both culverts lie under more than 20 feet of earth, and the ground drops off steeply on both sides of the road. The nearest level ground from which to stage a project is hundreds of feet from either culvert.
The terrain is such a challenge, in fact, that the jury hasn’t found a local contractor willing to bid on the project.
“We’ve had seven contractors, I think, turn down the project after getting at look at what it’s going to take,” Bridge said.
The terrain, Bridges said, is only part of the problem. If this were a typical culvert replacement, the contractor would just dig out the old culvert, asphalt and all, then reshape the ground, install the new culvert and repave the road. However, that process would make the only road into the neighborhood impassable for the duration of the project, which is unacceptable, Bridges said.
“We’d have to build a bypass road,” Bridges said. “To do that we’d have to remove several good-sized pine trees and haul in thousands of yards of dirt for the bypass, all on private property.”
The Jury’s preference, Bridges said, is for a contractor to replace the culvert using a “no dig” method that, as the name implies, replaces a culvert without destroying the road.
On Tuesday the Police Jury declared the project an emergency, so work can begin as soon as possible when a willing contractor is found. Emergency projects are exempt from the requirements of Louisiana’s public bid law, which requires, among other things, that a project be advertised for a month before a contractor is hired.
“We’ve exhausted our local options with no takers,” Bridges said. “We’re going on four months looking for a contractor, so we’re at a point that if we find a contractor that can do the work in the time we need it done, we need to award it pretty quickly.”