Consulting Parties meet on Cow Bayou Bridge Project
Pete Skinner
For The Record
Consulting parties on the Cow Bayou Bridge rehabilitation project met with an official of the Texas Department of Public Transportation in Bridge City Friday. Kitty Henderson, Executive Director of the Historic Bridge Foundation, and Mark Dunn and Tom Orozco of the Bridge City Citizens For Historic Preservation, reviewed the first phase of the three-phase project with TxDOT-Beaumont engineer Peter Jungen at the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce building.

In September 2007, the preservation groups had concurred with TxDOT that the planned work on the historic bridge would not have ""adverse affect" on the structure. Put simply, the repairs to Bridge City’s rare swing bridge will restore its functionality, while retaining the historic integrity of the World War II era in which it was built.
The Bridge City namesake bridge is one of two swing bridges of its kind and age that remain in the state.

"This is something we are very excited about and believe that the historic preservation of the Cow Bayou Bridge will be a great asset to our community," said Tom Orozco, who serves as chairman of grant research for the citizens committee.

 According to Jungen, the first phase will begin in late January or early February and entail modifications to the swing span clearance with a slight widening of the center armor joint. In hot weather, the bridge decking swells and jams the joint. Widening the decking about three inches and re-fabricating the metal joint will resolve the problem. The work will be at night during low traffic periods and should be completed in eight shifts.

Wiley Construction Company, Inc., of Paris, Texas was awarded the contract by TxDOT at a cost of $70,000 to make the repairs.

 Jungen said that TxDOT will post messages along Interstate 10 and Texas 87 informing motorists and truckers that the northbound Texas 87 route through Bridge City will be detoured during construction.

 No documentation for the second phase of the Cow Bayou Bridge rehabilitation was made available at the meeting. Future work is to consist of repairs to the center bearing swing mechanism that drives the bridge and a key component that makes it unique and historically significant. According to Clark Slacum, TxDOT Orange area engineer, a consultant in moveable bridge technology will assist in the second phase of construction. The second phase will also include refurbishing the traffic barriers and the addition of signal lights.

 Slacum said that a third phase will enhance the cosmetic appearance of the bridge. "We first want to get the bridge operational and then give it the antique look of the 1940’s period," he said.

Slacum said the total cost for the three phase rehabilitation project will be about $250,000. He estimates the cost of a new span similar to the Texas 87 southbound span would be between $15 million and $20 million.

 The swing bridge was used regularly in the 1960’s but not since. It became a media event in July 2003 when it was opened after remaining closed for three decades. Problems occurred, however, and it became a major feat for TxDOT to get the bridge closed again. 

"When the rehabilitation project is complete, the bridge will work efficiently," Jungen said, "We won’t be experiencing the problems that we’ve had in the past. Operating it will also require less manpower." Slacum said TxDOT’s goal is to make it functionally a one man operation.

In 1990 when the bridge became 50, the Cow Bayou Bridge became eligible for listing in the National Registry of Historic places as an historic bridge. The Bridge City Citizens for Historic Preservation is currently in the process of nominating it to the registry. The citizens intend to hire Anna Mod, a Houston-based historic preservationist, to compile the historic documentation necessary for submittal to the Texas Historic Commission. Mod was recommended by Henderson, who contacted her on the behalf of the group. The cost for documentation will be around $5,000.

 "I have no doubt that the bridge will be inducted into the National Registry," Henderson said. "The condition, age and rarity of the bridge make it an excellent candidate," she said.
Henderson spent 10 years with the THC before joining the Historic Bridge Foundation in 1998. “The historic specialist at TxDOT wants to save this bridge," she said. 
Last August, the Bridge City Citizens for Historic Preservation applied for and were granted "consulting party" status by Lisa Hart, Historic Studies Branch for the Environmental Affairs Division of TXDOT in Austin. The status gave the citizens the opportunity to comment on preservation issues involving the Cow Bayou Bridge. The Historic Bridge Foundation also applied and was granted the same.

TxDOT built the Cow Bayou Bridge in 1940. It was officially dedicated in 1941. About 3,000 people attended the formal opening. Miriam David of Orange cut the ribbon and her father, J. H. David, Sr., was the master of ceremonies.  The Maroon and Gold Band of Port Arthur’s Thomas Jefferson High School performed. The county judge at the time was F. W. Hustmyre.

 The Bridge City Citizens for Historic Preservation was formed on March 1, 2007, and is co-chaired by Mark Dunn and Beverly Perry. Butch Thurman serves as membership chairman. The Rev. George Cruse is the group’s  Chaplain. Phillip Everett and Steven Culp serve with Tom Orozco in preservation research and fund raising. Kirby Cruse is secretary.  Longtime city attorney H.D. Pate helped with legal issues. Catherine Cook, Lillie Gordy, Warren Wilson, Jr., Sharon Dunn and Bernice Snell also worked as volunteers.

A large group of Bridge City citizens signed petitions seeking the "historic preservation and use" of the Cow Bayou Bridge. The petition drive, however, was dropped after TXDOT announced plans to rehabilitate, not replace, the rare swing bridge.