The three final sites for a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge have sparked concerns that they are too far south to lure truck drivers and other motorists headed east on Interstate 12.
All three possibilities are in Iberville Parish, just south of Plaquemine on the west side and St. Gabriel on the east.
They would make it easier to reach eastbound I-10 via La. 30 but truckers and other drivers will have to backtrack to reach I-12.
“I would think that the proposed crossings do not facilitate access to I-12,” said Jay Campbell, chairman of the seven-member Capital Area Road and Bridge District, which is leading the search.
“They obviously facilitate getting to Interstate 10 via Highway 30, which is Nicholson Drive.”
“I believe that the comments that you have heard are very valid,” Campbell said, a reference to questions on whether 18-wheelers and others will keep using the current bridge to get to I-12, and adding to daily traffic tie-ups.
All three sites are set to undergo detailed scrutiny after the road and bridge district trimmed the list of possibilities from 10 to three.
A location is set to be picked in 2024.
The new bridge is expected to cost up to $3 billion.
U. S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, has also raised concerns on whether the three finalists will aid travelers headed to I-12.
So has Kenneth Perret, a former top official of the state Department of Transportation and Development.
“Locating the new bridge too far south of the existing I-10 bridge will not serve the traffic bound for Intestate 12 and points east, nor the local EBR Parish motorists,” Perret wrote in a recent letter to the editor of The Advocate/Times-Picayune.
“A better location would be parallel and on the south side of the existing I-10 bridge,” he said.
Some of the concerns stem from the view that cross-country travelers prefer to skirt the New Orleans areas on I-12 rather than going through the city on I-10.
Statistics back up that claim.
About 91,000 vehicles per day travel on I-10 between the I-10/12 split and Gonzales, according to figures complied by DOTD.
Less than 10% are trucks.
About 63,000 vehicles travel between on I-12 between the split and Walker.
However, 15% of those vehicles are trucks.
DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, a member of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, downplayed worries that the new bridge will not attract truckers headed to I-12.
“I will tell you that commercial vehicles will find the path of least resistance,” Wilson said.
“Some will stay on I-10. Others will drive toward New Orleans and some may backtrack to I-12.”
Wilson also noted that where a bridge goes incudes lots of factors.
“When we look at bridge site locations we are not necessarily just looking at traffic,” he said. “That is not the sole issue while that is a very pressing issue for the public.”
Potential toll revenue, environmental concerns and river traffic are among a host of topics included in the mix.
Getting the bridge location right carries extra weight knowing that the John James Audubon Bridge, which connects New Roads and St. Francisville, is generally considered a missed opportunity.
It also cost more than $400 million, eight times over the initial estimate.
About 6,200 cars and trucks use the Audubon bridge daily compared to more than 100,000 that cross the “new” Mississippi River bridge each day.
Campbell said that, while hindsight is 20-20, I-10 should have been built further east rather than through Baton Rouge.
“How do you fix that in today’s world? I would say one key answer is a lot of money and I don’t think we have that.”
Check back with The Advocate for more details.