Long-term changes to Stringer Bridge Road to be discussed

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said Tuesday that state highway officials plan to meet with him and other local officials at the end of April about what kind of long-term changes should be made to Stringer Bridge Road.

The road, also known as La. 935, was the scene of a deadly nighttime crash in February 2012 where two young girls died after their mother lost control of her car and drove into Black Bayou.

The bayou runs along Stringer Bridge Road, a winding, two-lane highway that, in some sections, has very little shoulder between it and the water.

Since the crash, the state Department of Transportation and Development made several immediate safety improvements. The agency also completed a study in June that laid out possibilities for long-term improvement, state officials said.

“I guess they want to get our input to see what we thought about the options,” Martinez said of the planned April 30 meeting.

DOTD spokesman Dustin Annison said the study, a road safety assessment, identified four potential long-term alternatives. They are: closing Stringer Bridge Road, installing guardrails between the road and Black Bayou, realigning the road or adding a bulkhead along the bayou.

Annison cautioned no final decision has been made on any option and DOTD officials want to meet with local officials before one is made.

Martinez said he would be staunchly opposed to closing the road or making it a dead-end road.

“I’d like to see the road, if at all possible, widened. I certainly don’t want to see it closed,” Martinez said. “I certainly don’t want to see it become a one-way street. I think widening part of it and some barricades would be my preferable option.”

He added he does not think DOTD officials want to close Stringer Bridge Road because they would not be calling local officials for input.

Four lawsuits filed in the 23rd Judicial District Court are pending against DOTD and parish government over the deaths of Faith Castilaw, 9, and Patience Lobell, 7, who did not escape the submerged car and died.

Among the allegations brought against the state and parish in all four suits is that the road lacks guardrails and that the agencies failed to prevent a hazardous condition on the road.

The court covers Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.

In the February 2012 crash, the childrens’ mother, Raelyn M. Encalade, 30, of St. Amant, was able to escape and two other children also in the car with her escaped after a dramatic rescue by bystanders.

Encalade told State Police at the time of the crash that the children were fighting and she took a curve too fast and lost control.

Encalade did not show signs of impairment at the scene. Sheriff’s investigators later found several prescription drugs in her system but no charges have been brought against her.

After the crash, residents on Stringer Bridge Road clamored for guardrails, citing at least two other crashes going back to March 2008 where drivers went off the road and into the bayou. In one of those crashes, someone died.

DOTD did not add guardrails in the short run but installed new signs, center-line rumble strips, reflective striping along the road edges and reflective tape on curve-warning sign posts.

The agency also conducted a study that found the posted speed limit is appropriate, Annison said.

“This work was completed in September 2013. We will continue to monitor the roadway with these new safety measures in place,” he said.

Since the fatal crash, two more crashes have been reported on Stringer Bridge Road: a collision with a cow and a speeding vehicle that hit a sign and a mailbox and drove away, Annison said.