West Baton Rouge received its fair share of weather woes last week when temperatures dipped to below-freezing conditions.
The “wintry mix” of freezing rain and sleet caused bridges over the Mississippi River that connect East and West Baton Rouge Parishes to shut down for several hours.
But on Tuesday, after temperatures rising to the mid-60s during the weekend, the freeze returned with “Winter Storm Leon,” which again shut down bridges and roads throughout the Greater Baton Rouge area, including WBR.
“We’re just coming off a dress rehearsal of this weather coming,” said WBR Parish President Riley “PeeWee” Berthelot Monday afternoon, before the winter storm touched down in the area. “DOTD learned a few lessons and they are committed to trying to do a better job and having more materials and equipment ready for the bridges because they shut down the whole interstate… We’re going to store some salt and other materials in our multipurpose arena so the state can have good accessibility to it.”
DOTD officials said Tuesday that there may not be enough equipment or resources to keep all the bridges in the state open.
“All efforts will be made to keep the interstate system and major corridors open in the event of snow or ice. When a bridge or roadway is deemed unsafe, it will be closed,” officials said in a press release.
Berthelot said Monday that parish officials were doing their best to prepare for what may be 40-60 hours of freezing rain, ice and snow.
During the first stint of bad weather, on Friday, WBR schools were closed – a move that Parish Superintendent David Corona repeated for Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The only time you close school is when you have unsafe roadways,” Corona said in an interview Monday afternoon. “We had an event on January 3 with temperatures just as low as we’re going to have Tuesday and Wednesday, but we didn’t close any schools. We didn’t have any precipitation.
“We’re going to have a massive amount of precipitation along with freezing temperatures that will cause dangerous conditions on roadways – and that’s why you close schools. You don’t want school buses out there riding around on ice.”
Corona said that though at least three instructional days will have been lost in the span of a week, the school system is prepared to set make-up days for students.
“We always build in to our school year calendar more than the minimum amount of time necessary for a school year calendar. We do that anticipating that we might have hurricane days,” he said. “We didn’t have any hurricane days this particular school year, so we already have some time built in.”
He added that depending on potential weather conditions on Thursday, schools may be closed that day as well.
“On Friday, the Baton Rouge police dealt with over 150 accidents between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.,” Corona said. “What caused those accidents? Unsafe road conditions. We don’t want to have kids on buses or in cars going to or coming from school on unsafe roadways. If it’s just cold we can deal with that, but when you have wet that turns to ice then you’ve got a problem.”
Corona said that along with the safety issue, he decided to close schools because about half of WBR School System employees live on the eastern side of the Mississippi River.
“When that bridge has the potential for freezing up and clogging up transportation as it did Friday and as it will this coming couple of days, that’s another consideration that one has to take into account,” he said.
Berthelot said that he expects the parish to get back to normal soon after the temperatures rise above freezing.
“On Friday we had traffic backed up for miles and people trying to get around, but once the freezing temperatures got out of the way, everything quickly went right back to normal, and we kind of expect that again,” he said.
Berthelot said that trash will be picked up on the north end of the parish on Thursday, as their pick-up was delayed last week.
He said that trash pick-ups will deviate from the regular routes this week, but will be back to normal beginning next week.
Progressive will attempt to pick up garbage in Port Allen on Thursday, but if icy conditions make this impossible, Progressive will pick up on Saturday and Sunday if necessary, according to a press release from the city. The release also stated that it is expected that regular recycle pick-up on Friday and trash pick-up will take place on Friday and Saturday, respectively.