The Intracoastal Waterway Bridge is the most common way to travel from one end of West Baton Rouge to the other and I-10, with an average of 50,000 commuters using it daily. Despite the 60-year-old bridge’s state of disrepair and annual F-rating, funding for a new one is not on the horizon.
A plan to replace it is about 95 percent complete and money is expected to come from the state in the 2020-2021 budget, Parish President Riley "PeeWee" Berthelot said at the Feb. 28 Parish Council meeting. The construction of the new six-lane bridge will happen in 12 phases, he continued.
For now, DOTD workers are working to repair 57 joints underneath both spans of the bridge to extend its life. The repairs leave concrete holes exposed on the surface which are covered up by metal plates to prevent lane closures. As repairs continue, DOTD workers will add and remove the metal plates along the bridge. The joint replacement project is expected to be complete by early July, according to DOTD but Berthelot said he expects it to be closer to the end of the year.
The joints were last repaired in 2000, Brandie Richardson, DOTD’s Public Information Officer, said.
“I’ll take the bump over the escalation that would be exacerbated by a closure to one lane,” Senator Rick Ward, a Port Allen native who sponsored a bill to create a funding mechanism for a third Mississippi River bridge, said.
Several motorists reported bolts popping up and plates sticking up after 18-wheelers crossed. After workers knocked the bolts back in with a sledgehammer, they installed a rubber mat to absorb the shock, Lt. Ken Albarez of the WBRSO Traffic Division, said. These modifications caused several sporadic lane closures last week.
During repairs, the double white line "means nothing" Berthelot said during his Parish President's report. Large trucks are encouraged to use the left lane, but may not realize they need to get over until the plates appear. Police are not writing tickets for crossing that line until repairs are complete.
With continued growth, the area could see 7,000 more trucks on the road a year due to a renaissance of manufacturing and engineering in the region, according to the West Baton Rouge Council’s LA 1/I-10 Connector Proposal. Those trucks would be a significant increase to the 35,000 trucks traveling down La. Hwy. 1 to the DOW facility each year.
Albarez, who lives on the North side of Intracoastal said he knows that it’s a pain, but as far as he can tell, “the state is doing everything within their financial abilities to do it most cost-effectively,” he said.
The bridge’s total replacement was scheduled for 2020 but was delayed indefinitely due to a lack of funding. Despite that the bridge’s less than 50 percent sufficiency rating, which qualified it for replacement funds, DOTD engineers suggested the rehabilitation or repair of the bridge would be neither feasible nor cost-effective, a DOTD letter stated.
These repairs are nothing short of an inconvenience for many residents. Katie Behrne, for example, spent an hour and 20 minutes traveling from her sitter’s house in Brusly to her home in Port Allen.
“That’s a rough ride with a 5-month-old who was scheduled to eat during that ride,” Behrne said. “Once we finally got home there was no time to spend together, which is already hard on a working mom.”
Brusly resident Beth Ledoux’s top complaints are being late to work at the Louisiana Workforce Commission across the bridge and the difficulty getting a contractor from East Baton Rouge to do work at her house.
“They come around nine and leave by two to miss the traffic or when you tell them [the house resides in] Brusly, [they say] ‘Oh no I can’t work there too much traffic.’”
Other residents said they declined job offers, consider evacuation routes useless due to high traffic, and worry about the time it takes an emergency vehicle to get to a hospital.
Even a trip to Wal-Mart can become riddled with brake lights and difficulty. Port Allen resident Rochelle Rayburn needed to fill a prescription at Wal-Mart Saturday around 5:30 p.m. She found herself stuck while suffering from the flu for 48 minutes to get back over the Intracoastal.
“Let’s just say it’s a good thing I also bought a new garbage can for the bathroom,” Rayburn joked.
Businesses along LA-1 say they have been affected financially due to the Intracoastal’s traffic.
“We’re not doing as well as we used to,” Chabill’s Tire & Auto Service manager Craig Gee said.
His store is located just before the Intracoastal entrance. He has noticed the traffic increase and the number of customers dropping by decrease. Tire pick-ups, an essential part of the business, take longer than an hour and a half to get back from East Baton Rouge.
“Some stores won’t do business with us if it’s late in the evening because it takes so long to get back,” Gee said.
He added that this is a common theme among West side businesses that rely on getting across the bridge and back to do business.
While traffic continues to dip into the wallets of businesses, it may be a while before the state dips in its wallet for a fix.
“A new Intracoastal bridge is on a priority list to be replaced in the future, but unfortunately, like most of our infrastructure in our state, it fills in the $13 billion back wall that we have,” Sen. Ward said.