Making Causeway safer a priority, but options aren't cheap

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 2, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 2 at 8:08 PM

Thanh Truong / Eyewitness News
Email: ttruong@wwltv.com | Twitter: @thanh412

METAIRIE, La. - You may not like to admit, but when you probably get a bit nervous driving or riding on the Causeway Bridge. You're not alone.

"It's kind of scary at times," said Don Montgomery, a driver we met near the 24-mile bridge.

The latest incident of a car going over the southbound bridge has caught the attention of the tens of thousands commuters crossing the bridge every day. A Metairie man, 19-year-old Miguel Rodgriguez, died after his Ford F-250 plunged into Lake Pontchartrain on Monday.

Carlton Dufrechou, the Causeway's general manager, says in the past 20 years, 10 cars have gone over the 25-inch railing, all on the south bridge. In that same time frame, no cars have gone over the northbound bridge where the railing sits six inches higher at 31 inches high.

"So those six inches, obviously make a difference," said Dufrechou.

At the Causeway Commission's regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, the topic that dominated all discussion was how to improve the safety of the bridge, which officials say is actually solid. But, the possibility of any more cars going "overboard" is making commission members consider new solutions.

"We need to do something with these railings to keep these cars on the Causeway," said commission chairman Larry Rase.

Rase says the cars of today such as SUV's and large pickup trucks, sit much higher than the cars of the 1950s and 60s when the railings were constructed.

"The vehicles are different, they're higher, their center of gravity is different. So when you get these SUV's or F-250 like on Monday, that railing is not going to stop anything," Rase said.

Commission members admit funding any changes to the railings will be difficult. The most expensive and least obtainable would be the inclusion of shoulders for both bridges. Dufrechou called that a "dream scenario" because placing 48 miles of shoulder would cost roughly $750 million.

More realistic possibilities include raising and strengthening the existing railings, but that also has a catch. Dufrechou says by adding on to the existing rail, the new one would take away the little space a driver has to walk outside of the flow of traffic after breaking down.

"That would be the quick and dirty 20-something million dollar solution, but we can't do that in good conscience. We can't have that. We put more people in jeopardy by putting them in the roadway, they would be standing in oncoming traffic which is intolerable," said Dufrechou.

The ideal option includes a combination of higher rails for both bridges and the so-called 12 "safety bays" which would resemble the seven "crossover" sections that exist for emergencies.

Dufrechou says it would provide a stranded driver a place to walk to and wait for emergency help after a car breaks down, which happens on average, 200 times a month on the Causeway. The issue again would be money. It would cost an estimated $90-100 million.

"Whatever we do it's not going to be easy, and it's going to be costly," Dufrechou said.

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The family of Miguel Rodriguez has set up a fund to accept donations to cover funeral expenses.  You can make a donation to a burial fund at any Chase bank branch. It has also set up a donation site to raise money for his funeral:  www.youcaring.com/MiguelAngel

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