Local leaders fighting to replace leaking Belle Chasse Tunnel

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 2, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 2 at 8:27 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

BELLE CHASSE, La. -- Locals mockingly refer to the Belle Chasse Tunnel as the Plaquemines Parish car wash.

A sign near the entrance on Hwy. 23 warns drivers about the wet road ahead.

Eyewitness News spotted several leaks dripping water from the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway on to the vehicles below.

"It's real bad," said driver Chalin Bechnel. "Traffic is all wet in there. They don't clean it. There's trash everywhere in there."

"I'm always afraid to go through the tunnel," said driver Anthony Francovich. "Each day you get a clean car, you wash your car and before you know it's filthy again. Just a two-minute pass through the tunnel."

"It's disheartening to enter the parish and that's the first thing you see is this leaky tunnel that you have to drive through," said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

Nungesser said the leaking has actually gotten worse since the Army Corps of Engineers built new flood gates in the area.

"It's a lot worse," said Nungesser. "We've had several accidents."

State Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, said the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is now studying the possibility of building a new bridge to replace the aging tunnel and adjacent draw bridge.

"The bridge itself is antiquated," said Heitmeier. "It's seen better days and the tunnel as we know was completed in 1954 and it has significant problems."

Nungesser says best-case scenario, the parish may be able to select the type of bridge that would replace the existing bridge and tunnel by the end of the year. But, he admits coming up with the $60 million to $80 million it would cost to build the new structure won't be easy.

"We have to come up with some way to pay for it. I'm sure the people of Plaquemines would support a toll if it was all going to replacing that bridge."

The Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of installing pumps in the tunnel to help keep water off the roadway.

 

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