The Texas Department of Transportation has begun the second phase of a three-part restoration project for the Cow Bayou Bridge.

The landmark Bridge City swing bridge is scheduled for nomination to the National Register as an historic bridge in May. It suffered only minor damage from Hurricane Ike.

A study of the bridge was being conducted by consultants in moveable bridge technologies last week. The consultants are determining how to proceed in making the bridge more functional. TxDOT plans to repair and upgrade the swing mechanism that drives the bridge.

According to Clark Slacum, TxDOT Orange area engineer, the bridge had only minor damage to electrical components from Hurricane Ike. “Otherwise, the bridge is in pretty good shape,” Slacum said. “The storm actually gave it a good cleaning.”

Consultants with URS Corp., a global engineering, construction and technical services firm hired by TxDOT, will be back for a more intensive study Feb. 16. Project design development will be complete in October with contracts for the project let in January, 2010.

“We found that little water had intruded the bearing housing itself,” Slacum said. He is still waiting for the full report.

Original construction on the Cow Bayou Bridge began as soon as the Rainbow Bridge was completed in 1938. A technological marvel of its day, the swing bridge was a key link connecting Orange and Jefferson counties on the then-new Texas 87. After the bridge was dedicated in 1941 the community of Prairie View became known as Bridge City. The bridge helped bring about the merger of the Prairie View and Winfree school districts that would become the Bridge City Independent School District.

In a rare event the Cow Bayou Bridge was swung open last May during the first phase of the project. It entailed the widening of the center armor joint to allow the bridge to open more easily and prevent it from jamming. The project called for a newly-fabricated, but historically accurate, armor joint.

The rare swing bridge was used regularly in the 1960s, 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. Once restored, Slacum foresees the service of the Cow Bayou Bridge to be a simple, one man operation taking no longer than the time it takes for the watercraft to pass.

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

Slacum said the cost for the rehabilitation project will be about $2.55 million. Estimates for the cost of a new span similar to the Texas 87 southbound Cow Bayou overpass would be between $15 million and $20 million.

The Cow Bayou Bridge originally carried two lanes of traffic north and southbound. When the Cow Bayou overpass was built in the 1970s it began carrying two lanes of south bound traffic and the Cow Bayou Bridge two lanes north bound.

The Cow Bayou Bridge became eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic bridge in 1990.