Repairs to the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Port Allen have turned the notorious traffic backups on the westbank into a constant nightmare that La. 1 commuters can’t seem to escape.
The situation, in fact, is so bad local officials and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development are searching for solutions to ease traffic snarls on the bridge, which is highly trafficked but also in desperate need of repairs.
The problem stems from steel plates placed on the northbound lanes as crews repair joints underneath the bridge. The plates are necessary so that the state does not have to close lanes on the bridge while the work is being done.
The one-inch thick plates, however, are essentially creating speed bumps on the bridge, causing vehicles to almost come to a complete stop when crossing and interrupting traffic flow, says state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen.
Local commuters, used to traffic during peak travel times, are now fighting congestion at all hours of the day.
“There has not been a moment in the day when traffic hasn’t been backed up for miles,” Ward says. “Something has to change. It’s affecting everything. From people missing doctor’s appointments, being late to work—anything you can imagine.”
Businesses on the west side are also feeling the impacts, he adds, from the retail shops nearby to trucking companies that travel the route.
“So much business travels up and down La. 1,” Ward says. “It’s a tremendous burden.”
The F-rated Intracoastal bridge, however, has been in need of repair—or actually a complete replacement—for years, according to DOTD. The structure was supposed to be replaced a few years ago, but insufficient infrastructure funding has delayed the project.
“This is the convergence of an extremely congested corridor, exacerbated by necessary maintenance, as a result of us not investing in infrastructure to replace the bridge when we should have,” says DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson.
Public outrage is prompting DOTD to look into alternative options for the repairs. Wilson expects to issue a press release within a day or so addressing the matter.
Some 50,000 commuters cross the Intracoastal bridge daily, Ward says, which is almost half the volume that travels the Mississippi River bridge each day.
Wilson assures that—although the bridge needs repairs and has an F rating—it is not unsafe. If it was unsafe, he adds, it would be closed.
He also acknowledges the reality that even when repairs are complete, traffic on the westside will remain as long as the area continues to go without a new Mississippi River crossing.
“They were frustrated before and will be frustrated after,” Wilson says. “The only way to solve it is with a new bridge. But the only way to give it to them is to have the Legislature fund it.”