A main road on Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus that has been impassable for nearly a month since it collapsed could be repaired and reopened by the start of the fall semester.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has ordered the state Department of Transportation and Development to fix E.C. Harrison Road, which gave way when an aging culvert crumbled.
Southern previously said it was seeking help from the state to get the road reopened because the financially struggling university doesn’t have the money for it. The road’s closure, which has left an unpaved route as the only way to residence halls on the north side of campus, is considered a safety issue, in addition to being an inconvenience.
“Safe, efficient transportation of people and commerce is a vital interest of the state of Louisiana,” Jindal wrote in his letter ordering the repair work.
DOTD can’t work on properties outside of the state’s highway system, unless there is a gubernatorial declaration to do so.
The letter states that Southern University will reimburse DOTD with funding it receives from the state Interim Emergency Board for labor, equipment and materials.
DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett said the job is expected to cost about $300,000. Earlier estimates had put the job at $2 million or more.
“The bridge maintenance supervisor said he hopes to get started, at the latest, Monday. They have make sure there are no utilities in the area. The goal is to finish before Southern starts its next session,” Mallett said.
Jindal’s letter notes that the road closure could impact an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 students, employees and visitors if it’s not fixed before the fall semester starts.
Acting SU Chancellor Flandus McClinton Jr. said he was glad to see Jindal and other leaders step in to ensure the road is repaired before students head back to campus. “It really has caused a tremendous problem for us,” he said.
Some leaders had expressed concern about firetrucks and other emergency vehicles being able to reach dorms using the alternate route.
“We don’t have to be concerned about that anymore,” McClinton said.
Campus leaders believe a culvert under the road deteriorated because of age and water streaming through campus from the Mississippi River and the Scotlandville area. When it gave way, the road on top crumbled and collapsed, leaving a giant sinkhole where that segment of the road once was.
During a recent meeting, the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees the higher education boards, discussed the university’s struggle to find funding to cover the road’s repairs and granted SU authority to seek money from the Interim Emergency Board, a state fund dedicated to emergency repairs on state properties. The fund currently has about $1.7 million, according to the Division of Administration.