Drivers traveling south over the Rainbow Bridge may have had an unexpected delay on Tuesday morning.

The Texas Department of Transportation started maintenance on the bridge on Monday, Jan. 5. In order to do the work, TxDOT closed the right lane until next year for painting and repair work. This lane closure will be permanent and remain in place 24 hours a day the remainder of the year, the state agency reported. A year later, the other lane will be closed for further maintenance and the present lane reopened.

Sarah Dupre, public information officer for TxDOT, said there will be a lot of construction equipment on the bridge and it wouldn’t be feasible to remove it everyday.

TxDOT declared in an August press release the Transportation Commission approved more than $26 million for maintenance on the Rainbow Bridge as of July 31. Saffo Contractors, Inc. was awarded the project.

“This type of maintenance must be done to keep our bridges in safe working order,” said Tucker Ferguson, district engineer for the Beaumont District of TxDOT. “When completed, the bridge will have been cleaned, repainted and any repairs will have been made.” Dupre asked drivers to obey speed limits, observe warning signs and to be aware of contracting crews working on the bridge for safety reasons.

Jerry Jones, city manager for Bridge City, said TxDOT didn’t contact the city before construction started on Jan. 5. As pertaining to traffic pile-ups, Jones said he traveled over the bridge on Monday evening and found one lane to be sufficient to move traffic along. He anticipates if there are any traffic jams it will be during the morning commute or if an accident occurs on the bridge.

Dupre said emergency response vehicles should use the highway shoulder until reaching the bridge. From there, the vehicles should use whatever room is available to get to their destination if no continuous equipment is lined up. Drivers are also being asked to use both lanes up to to merge points and then take turns merging. “We have to do maintenance on our bridges, especially with so much saltwater there,” she said. “We do the Rainbow Bridge every 20 years. We want to keep it in topnotch shape because it’s our historical bridge in the area.”

Dupre said the first step of the project will be used to set up scaffolding. After that, the bridge will be completely wrapped so no paint will fall into the Neches River and cause environmental damage.