MANDEVILLE, La. -- The southbound span of the Causeway Bridge is set to turn 58 this year. Those that maintain it know a lot has changed in the way of travel in that time.
“When the bridge was designed, the prevalence of cars were all big, Detroit-iron, low center of gravity, and the late '80s, early '90s started seeing a switch to SUV’s and more personal trucks," said Carlton Dufrechou, the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission executive director.
Just this weekend, a distracted driver plunged off the bridge and was rescued by good Samaritans.
It's because of that, and recent incidents like it, that upgrades to the bridge's guardrails have been under the microscope for a revamp for almost a year.
Suggestions from Texas A&M researchers include boosting the height of the rail and hooking the shape inward.
"These will be fabricated and actually put on the old nine-mile turnaround, underneath the bridge, and we'll be testing them out there, static tested, actually jacked with big hydraulic jacks, until failure,” Dufrechou said.
Whichever test performs best, 150 feet of that version will be created back at A&M for everyday vehicles to crash into for testing, including a Ford F-250.
Causeway officials are hoping to have whatever fix is found, at least started by the end of the year, on both bridges. They key to getting that done is money.
"The best estimates on the books right now is this is a $50 million project. It will be the largest single project, it'll be more expensive than building either of the two bridges were," Dufrechou said. Despite any improvements to the bridge, officials say preventing incidents like the one this weekend start with all of us.
“Remember that you're driving for the next 24 to 25 minutes," Dufrechou said. "Just focus on staying attentive with the traffic and you, most of all, unless it's an emergency, leave all the cellular devices alone."
The first round of tests are expected at the end of this month. A decision on a federal grant application, to cover the cost of the work, is expected in September.
Officials say 11 drivers have driven off the bridge since 1993.