Parish officials say they are concerned about the state of the LA 1 bridge in Port Allen over the Intracoastal Canal, a bridge classified “structurally deficient” according to Transportation for America, and say they are pushing for a LA 1/LA 415 connector.
“Approximately 45,000 motorists use the [LA 1] bridge on a daily basis,” Public Information Officer for the La. Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Lauren Lee said. Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot compared that to West Baton Rouge Parish’s population of about 24,000 people.
“It’s not a local problem, it’s a regional problem,” Berthelot said.
Lee said the bridge is a state bridge, built in 1960. The bridge is currently 53 years old and three years beyond what Transportation for America deems a 50-year lifespan for bridges in America.
According to Transportation for America:
• Louisiana currently ranks 17th in the U.S. for structurally deficient bridges.
• 1,722 bridges or 12.9 percent of all bridges in Louisiana are structurally deficient.
• The average age of a Louisiana bridge is 35 years.
“A lot of bridges in Louisiana are aging,” Berthelot said.
Lee said DOTD is currently designing a project to replace the LA 1 bridge, estimated to cost between $20 million and $25 million. She said DOTD plans to accept bids for the project within the next three years. Work would begin three to four months after accepting bids but the length of construction is still undetermined, she said.
Berthelot said at the March 14 parish council meeting, “They were hoping we would get our bridge built at 415 before they would have to rehab that bridge [at LA 1].”
Berthelot said the 415 connector would act as an alternate route to the LA 1 bridge while construction is underway.
He said the state plans to six-lane the LA 1 bridge, and that DOTD is currently conducting an LA 1 Corridor Study.
Lee said the study seeks to improve traffic flow, access and safety from LA 1 at N. Line Rd. to its junction with La. 988 (Schneblen St). According to the LA 1 Corridor Study Facebook page, the study should end in May. DOTD officials are currently asking residents and drivers to complete an online survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/la1_survey.
“Adding another lane to the Intracoastal bridge might be the answer to all the traffic issues,” Berthelot said.
Councilman Phil Porto said seven years ago, DOTD officials told him the bridge was “seven years overdue major work.” “Now it’s fourteen years overdue major work,” he said. “If we lose that bridge, we’ve about lost West Baton Rouge.”
Resident Erin Bennett said the bridge “is the only way to get back and forth.”
“My father is a heart patient,” she said. “If he had a problem and the bridge was out he would die.”
However, Berthelot said he has hit some roadblocks in funding for the LA 415 connector, estimated to cost between $75 million and $130 million.
Berthelot originally wanted to fund the project with a toll, but he said survey results from global, Massachusetts-based company CDM Smith “didn’t come out exactly like I wanted.”
Berthelot said, according to CDM Smith, 30 cents per vehicle would be the maximum toll.
Berthelot and Council Chair Gary Spillman both said that if WBR Parish could not get state or federal funds for the 415 connector, the parish would have to turn to private donors.
“Financing this project is a difficult thing,” Berthelot said. “I do have two private firms that have expressed interest in building it.”
Councilman Barry Hugghins said, “It’s not fair to have West Baton Rouge people fund the fix to this problem when you’ve got other parishes that are benefitting from it.”
Bennett said, “We have people who are coming over from the plants and everything and they depend on that bridge just as much as people in West Baton Rouge do.”
“With the bridge having a bad report,” Councilman Ricky Loupe said, “we can hopefully push the state to help us build this 415 bridge.”
“This has gone on really too long,” Bennett said.
Berthelot said the parish will meet with state legislators to discuss the 415 connector in a few weeks in Addis, La.
He said he will also have CDM Smith give a presentation at a future parish council meeting.