CEDAR CREEK LAKE–“We’ve had a few setbacks due to weather, but we’ve made most of the time up. We are still on track to be complete this fall,” Austin Road & Bridge Project Manager John Bridge told The Monitor. The $42 million project began in March 2019 and has been a popular topic of discussion among residents.
“We have had a lot of people stop in to talk about the project and everyone has been nice and understanding about the construction process,” Bridge said. The project includes building two west-bound bridges and widening the roadway over the island in the middle. The “bottleneck” of the bridge has long been a concern for the lake area which has four lanes and a turning lane on both the Seven Points and the Gun Barrel side. A traffic accident on the bridge often meant traffic being shut down while emergency personnel could respond, and the wreck could be cleared. Detours involved miles and lots of lost time for residents.
Leaders in the community, along with the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, worked tirelessly for nearly a decade, gaining support and teaming with government leaders including Senator Robert Nichols and Congressman Lance Gooden to keep the concerns before TxDOT and legislators. The funding was finally committed in the end of 2017 when Nichols released a statement saying, “Today, the Texas Transportation Commission took a huge step in funding the rebuilding of the Highway 334 bridge between Seven Points and Gun Barrel City. Prior to this vote, which made this project a reality, it had only been expressed as an important goal. But no money had been committed to this project.”
The nearly 150 support columns for the bridges are nearing completion, having been drilled into the bedrock and then poured. The columns, three across, are 120 feet apart in the center and 80 feet apart nearing the shore. Pre-formed concrete caps are placed across the three pillars, forming a base for the beams.
The work is done from the water on barges. Bridge described the barges as coming in sections like Legos, which can then be put together in different sizes and formats to accommodate the cranes and other heavy equipment needed to move the caps. Even the concrete to form the pillars is transported on the barge in large “buckets” that are then lifted by the cranes and poured into the forms. Six crews are at work on the bridge structure, with some of the work having been done at night to minimize the effect on traffic.
The new bridges will be several feet higher in the center than the old bridge and once the old bridge is replaced sometime in the future, larger boats will be able to pass underneath. But since the old bridge was deemed in good condition, it will remain to be used for eastbound traffic.
“With bridge construction, the majority of the work is done underneath and it doesn’t always look like we’re making a lot of progress. But once the structures are in place, the actual bridge construction goes pretty fast,” Bridge told The Monitor.
Once the bridges are open to western traffic, the old bridge will be closed for re-surfacing with asphalt, while both directions of traffic will be diverted to the new bridges. The new roadway leading to the bridges will be concrete on the Gun Barrel City side and asphalt on the Seven Points side, per the contract and what the cities wanted.