Study of La. 1, Iberville Parish bridge urged

Two measures introduced last week in the Legislature left Iberville and West Baton Rouge officials hopeful that the daily traffic congestion on La. 1 and the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge had finally gotten the attention of Louisiana lawmakers.

House Concurrent Resolution 100 and House Concurrent Resolution 192 sailed through the state Legislature at the urging of House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part.

HCR100 asks the state Department of Transportation and Development to review the feasibility of constructing what is being called “the West Bank Connector,” a proposed four-lane highway between Interstate 10 near Port Allen and Interstate 310 just west of New Orleans.

HCR192 requests the Department of Transportation look into the feasibility of building a bridge over the Mississippi River that would connect La. 1 and La. 30 — most likely in Iberville Parish — before January 2015.

State officials estimate a new bridge would cost about $800 million.

“Iberville Parish is deserving of a bridge because of all the industrial expansion that has been going on,” Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said Thursday. “Starting at about 4 a.m. every day, the parish just balloons from everyone driving into work.”

“I want this bridge. I’m not going down without fighting for it,” Ourso said. “We will not be the only parish in the state where you still have to use a ferry to cross the Mississippi River.”

Daily work commutes are at the heart of La. 1’s traffic issues, he said.

Most of the problems occur in the afternoon when traffic bottlenecks along the Intracoastal Waterway bridge in Port Allen — where La. 1 meets I-10 near the Mississippi River bridge.

Stacey Chiasson, a spokeswoman for the Dow Chemical plant in Plaquemine, said 60 percent of the company’s workforce lives outside of Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes.

According to 2013 Department of Transportation traffic data, approximately 47,000 vehicles travel each day on La. 1 near the Intracoastal Waterway bridge in West Baton Rouge, but only 24,573 people live in West Baton Rouge Parish, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

For the past several years, West Baton Rouge Parish officials have conducted studies and taken steps to build a toll road linking La. 415 to La. 1 to alleviate some of the congestion.

That project remains in limbo as the parish seeks funding to pay for the endeavor.

Chiasson said the inadequate infrastructure in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes is not only causing constant traffic delays for commuters but also hinders the company from trucking goods to and from its plant site, which is on La. 1.

“Even our workforce that lives in the local area cannot get to their homes in a reasonable time. That’s most alarming,” Chiasson said. “We’ve got to be able to move the workforce from point A to point B. Right now, we’re struggling with that.”

Chiasson said Dow has attempted to ease some of the traffic congestion by shifting to a 10-hour day, four days a week work schedule.

“If you go down La. 1 on a Friday, that’s the worst day,” she said.

The problem cannot be resolved locally, she said.

“I think this has to be a platform for the next legislative session and the next governor,” Chiasson said. “That is where the action has to take place.”