Acadiana Delegation taps Berthelot for position _lowres

Clay Schexnayder

A bridge that crosses the Amite River in southern Livingston Parish is slated to be replaced in order to facilitate traffic that uses the route to bypass congestion in Baton Rouge. 

La. 16 at French Settlement is expected to get a new bridge that will accommodate heavy trucks traveling to the petrochemical plants in Ascension Parish and enable larger boats to pass underneath, said state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

"Unfortunately, the way we have our roads set up, (Highways) 16, 444 and 63 are all pretty much commercial shortcuts to get to the plants," he said. 

The legislator said he brought the bridge to the attention of the state Department of Transportation and Development after noting the load limits were low compared to the trucks that were crossing it. Shexnayder contends the bridge is outdated and unsafe for the commercial traffic, including trucks that are carrying heavy loads of equipment and gravel back and forth.  

"It's a bridge that cannot have the capacity that these trucks are traveling with," he said.

With the assistance of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, the bridge was moved up the DOTD priority list, he said.

The bridge is currently at 95 percent complete in the design phase and is anticipated to start construction in late 2019 or early 2020, said Bambi Hall, a DOTD spokeswoman.

Hall wrote in an email that replacing the bridge will cost from $20 million to 30 million. 

The bridge was selected as a candidate for replacement due to its condition, posted load limits and the effort required to open the bridge to marine traffic, Hall said. 

Load limits on the bridge are 15 tons for single-axle trucks and 25 tons for tandem axles, she said.

Though the bridge is "old and has deficiencies," it remains safe, she said. 

The current bridge is a swing-span bridge that can be opened for tall boats. The new bridge would be 31 feet high, thereby allowing for taller boats to pass.

It would be constructed 50 feet south of the current bridge, meaning traffic would continue to flow during construction, according to the agency's written plans. 

Because the project is located in a wetland and navigable waterway, DOTD has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The Corps, jointly with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, put out a public notice on Oct. 16 and is soliciting comments through Nov. 5.

Stephen Pfeffer, project manager with the Corps, said DOTD's proposal would affect 6.7 acres of wetlands for the new bridge and right of way. The bridge has daily traffic of about 7,000 vehicles, making it difficult to completely shut down and replace without a realignment, he said. 

In order to issue the permit, the Corps would need to be confident the project met a public need, avoids and minimizes wetland impacts to the extent possible and that there are no feasible alternatives, he said. 

Pfeffer said the Corps has made an initial finding that the bridge would not affect any endangered species or their habitats, nor would it affect essential fish habitat. 

If the bridge is built, the Corps would need to compensate for the disturbances by restoring or enhancing other wetlands.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.