An accident involving multiple 18-wheelers Tuesday morning resulted in tardy schoolteachers and disrupted the delivery routes and shift cycles for many industrial plants on the west side of the Mississippi River when a portion of Interstate 10 was closed nearly 12 hours as crews worked to clear the pileup.
“It was a rough start for us,” West Baton Rouge Parish schools Superintendent Wesley Watts said. “We even had a lot of late kids because bus drivers couldn’t get here on time.”
And Dow Chemical’s spokeswoman Stacey Chiasson said many of the employees working at the company’s Plaquemine-based facility turned around and went back home due to the traffic build-up that snarled from near the accident site into Baton Rouge.
Louisiana State Police have yet to determine the exact cause of the crash, but Sgt. Nick Manale said Tuesday afternoon the troopers’ preliminary investigation indicated a Chrysler vehicle had stopped in a westbound lane of I-10, near La. 415, shortly before 3 a.m. when it was hit by an 18-wheeler.
The crash sparked a chain reaction involving five more 18-wheelers, causing one to veer into the eastbound lanes of I-10 and catch fire.
Manale said two drivers had to be transported to a local hospital for minor to moderate injuries.
However, the region’s morning rush-hour traffic took a more severe hit when State Police were initially forced to close I-10 westbound at the Mississippi River bridge and both the east and westbound lanes of I-10 between Grosse Tete and La. 415 so crews could start removing the wreckage.
This tweet from Louisiana State Police shows video of the extent of the accident:
Efforts to re-open I-10 W/B are on-going. This aerial footage shows the difficult task of clearing the roadway. pic.twitter.com/uxH8eCz6bH— LA State Police (@LAStatePolice) December 8, 2015
“We had to make sure it could be done as safely and quickly as possible,” said Trooper 1st Class Bryan Lee. “We were able to tow away some, but many of the trucks had to be off-loaded and uprighted because they had toppled over.”
Lee said each 18-wheeler was hauling different cargo. One was transporting sugar, another soft drinks, the third had alcohol, the fourth was transporting wood, one was hauling paper and the sixth was hauling gravel.
State Police reopened the eastbound lanes about 7 a.m. Tuesday after crews were able to haul off the gravel truck, which veered off the westbound lanes and temporarily caught fire, Lee said.
The westbound side wasn’t reopened until approximately 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
I-10’s westbound traffic over the Mississippi River was detoured from I-110 north to U.S. 190 west to Interstate 49 south.
That detour caused the heavy traffic build-up that made morning commutes into West Baton Rouge Parish an arduous effort of stop-and-go for motorists.
Watts said many of the school district’s bus drivers were late for routes Tuesday morning, resulting in late pickups for students.
“I actually picked a kid up today on my way into work and dropped him off at Port Allen Middle,” Watts said. “I saw the kid standing at the bus stop looking down at his watch.”
Watts said many of the district’s administrative staff had to temporarily fill in for faculty who got caught in the traffic nightmare.
“We had some teachers that just weren’t able to make it in until 9:30 or 10 o’clock,” he said, “but everyone just sort of stepped in and we were able to get things rolling.”
Chiasson says Tuesday’s traffic hiccup is just another reminder of the inadequate infrastructure in the Baton Rouge region — especially on the west side of the Mississippi River.
“It is troublesome that a multi-truck accident on the interstate system can paralyze an entire region such as Baton Rouge,” she said in a prepared statement. “At Dow we had to make logistical adjustments for shipments and of course many employees were late and some gave up and went back home.”
Chiasson says it’s imperative local leaders start addressing the region’s traffic problems now.
“Now that the campaign and election season is over, it is time to find the political will to put forth and fund a regional solution to address the lack of infrastructure in our capital region,” she said.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.