Along the Red River's path through central Louisiana, at the point where it divides the cities of Alexandria and Pineville, a historic bridge stands as one of the last remaining examples of its design and serves as a major connector between the two cities. However, the realization that it has outlived its usefulness has been building over many years, and a major project now nearing completion will result in the old bridge's demolition.
With the projected 2016 completion of the Curtis-Coleman Memorial Bridge project will come long-desired improvements to traffic flow on U.S. Highway 71/165 across the Red River. At the heart of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD) project is the replacement of the existing two-lane O.K. Allen Bridge along what has grown to be a major arterial route connecting Pineville on the east bank and Alexandria on the west bank. Replacing the old bridge will be a twin span girder bridge providing four lanes of traffic. Replacement of the existing 2-lane highway from I-49 to just north of a KCS railroad bridge with a four-lane divided highway is also included in the project. Local access roadways within the limits of the project are being improved as well. The total project length is 2.12 miles.
The Curtis-Coleman project will result in improvements to horizontal and vertical roadway geometrics that no longer meet present day design standards, a reduction in traffic accidents, and enhanced traffic flow along the heavily-travelled route. "The completion of the $82.9 million Curtis-Coleman Bridge project will not only improve safety, but also aid in alleviating congestion for motorists in Rapides Parish," says LA DOTD's Alexandria District Engineer Administrator Murphy Ledoux.
The existing bridge was built in 1936 and is named for Oscar K. Allen, who served as Louisiana's 42nd governor from 1932 to 1936. At the time of its completion, it was only the second roadway between Alexandria and Pineville. It is one of the last existing examples of the classic "K" truss fixed span bridge design, with a 24-foot clear roadway path and a 500-foot clear center span with concrete and steel deck truss approach spans. The bridge carries well over 20,000 vehicles daily - one lane of traffic in each direction. Steel bridges like the O.K. Allen Bridge have proven expensive to maintain - due to the need for painting - and widening such bridges is cost-prohibitive.
Because of its narrow lanes, low vertical clearance, and lack of shoulders, the LA DOTD has classified the O.K. Allen Bridge as both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. With this replacement project, the main channel of the Red River is to be bridged by a continuous steel girder unit consisting of three spans of 300 feet, 400 feet and 300 feet for a total length of 1,000 feet. Additionally, two new bridges being constructed over the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks will each have a 40-foot clear roadway width designed to carry two lanes of traffic. The new steel span is made of weathering steel which does not require painting. The approach spans are being constructed using 72-inch deep Bulb-T pre-stressed pre-cast concrete girders with the total length of bridge being 3,015 feet.
Plans to replace the O.K. Allen Bridge have been in the works for over two decades, with initial studies done in 1993. Preliminary plans were completed between 1999 and 2001, and revised preliminary plans were completed in 2006. After completion of final bridge and roadway plans, the contract for the design/bid/build project was awarded in 2010 and work began in earnest, divided into two phases - main river crossing and approaches. The construction contract value when awarded in September 2010 was $82.9 million.
According to the LA DOTD reports the project is approximately 91 percent complete and is expected to wrap up in early 2016. While the project was initially anticipated to be a three-year construction contract, the discovery of differing site conditions, which resulted in the redesign of a pier foundation, ultimately meant that a change order for additional time (two years) and funding was required, the LA DOTD reports.
Project Manager for LA DOTD on the Curtis-Coleman project is Joachim Umeozulu, and the (District Eight) Project Engineer is Steve Buskie. The primary contractor on the project is Jensen Construction Company of Des Moines, Iowa.
The project designer is Gulf Engineers and Consultants (GEC) of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; their Project Manager is Robert Dugas. Pan American Engineers, Alexandria, Inc. is the project's Construction Engineering and Inspection Consultant (John Gagnard, Project Engineer). Diamond B Construction Company of Alexandria, Louisiana has responsibility for earth work, drainage, and asphalt roadway; Tarver Land Development of Alexandria handled all clearing and demolition work.
While the bridge itself is the major component, there are numerous other significant aspects to the Curtis-Coleman project. Also under construction are nearly 8,000 feet of four-lane divided highway that will connect with several major Pineville streets, and an interchange on the west bank connecting U.S.71/165 to I-49 and Third Street in Alexandria. There will also be a 1,220-foot-long bridge on the eastern side crossing the Kansas City Southern Railroad.
The plans include a wide variety of concrete pavements, including the main roadway, single- and double-lane ramps (with connections to existing I-49 interchange ramps), a four-lane divided arterial, and two-lane access roads. New service roads in the Buhlow Lake area will provide easier access to the airport and the Red River Waterway Recreation Area, and four high retaining walls are being built adjacent to Fort Buhlow, Pineville High School, and state hospital buildings to address environmental concerns.
The bridge project was known as the Fort Buhlow Bridge project during most of its long gestation and construction period (so named for a historic Civil War-era fort built on the river's east bank under the command of Captain C. M. Randolph and under the supervision of military engineer, Lieutenant A. Buhlow. However, legislation passed in 2014 changed the name to the Curtis-Coleman Memorial Bridge to honor two prominent residents of Pineville and Alexandria, Israel "Bo" Curtis and Lemon Coleman. Curtis was a teacher, coach and three-term member on the Rapides Parish School Board, and later became the first African-American to be elected to the State Legislature from Alexandria since Reconstruction. Coleman was a longtime educator, and the first African-American member of Pineville's City Council.
In anticipation of the completion of the project, 18-wheel trucks were prohibited from using the O.K. Allen Bridge starting in August of 2014, in order to enforce weight limits. The northbound span of the Curtis-Coleman Bridge has been completed, and opened to two-way traffic in March, 2015. Demolition of the O.K. Allen Bridge is now underway and construction of the southbound bridge structure is progressing.
Asked about the project, LA DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas comments, "Our commitment to invest in Louisiana's bridges is a top priority. Since 2008, more than $1 billion has been invested in our state's bridges. With an estimated 25,000 daily motorists, the Curtis-Coleman Bridge is an important structure for this area, providing a vital link between the cities of Pineville and Alexandria."
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