Lane closures and other problems on and near the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge have dropped 16 percent in the past four months, state officials said.
The drop followed a rash of problems earlier this year, including a more than 50 percent increase in lane incidents sparking slowdowns in July.
“They did go back down to more of the level that we would anticipate,” said Kirk Gallien, deputy assistant secretary of operations for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
But even with the decrease traveling back and forth across the bridge or even near it remains an iffy proposition.
An accident just west of the bridge stopped westbound traffic for hours on and near the bridge and, at times, all the way to College Drive, on Dec. 29.
Slowdowns in one or both directions are a common sight, especially during peak commute times.
“The bridge is almost a daily problem,” said Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot, president of West Baton Rouge Parish.
No major changes are expected this year, and likely longer, because of financial and political obstacles.
Lane closures on and close to the structure rose by 50 percent in July because of crashes, stalled vehicles and debris.
The typical figure is about 50 such closures per month.
That rose to 76 in July.
August was not much better with 72.
However, closures dropped to 58 in September, 59 in October and 64 in November, the latest figures available.
“So those two months (July and August) appear to be more of an anomaly than they do a pattern,” Gallien said.
He said higher traffic volume, vacations and more people traveling through Baton Rouge who are unfamiliar with the area might have caused the spike.
The bridge is one of the biggest chokepoints in a metro area where travel complaints are standard fare.
It is part of a 2,460-mile coast-to-coast route where traffic narrows to one lane just east of the bridge near the controversial Washington Street exit.
Average daily traffic totals about 102,000 vehicles, which is 33 percent higher than in 1998.
An interim legislative committee is studying possible highway solutions amid Louisiana’s $12 billion backup of road and bridge needs.
But possible solutions recommended to the Legislature are expected to be short term.
Any push to make sweeping highway and bridge improvements is not expected before at least 2016, when a new governor and Legislature take office.
A new bridge would cost an estimated $800 million.
Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for DOTD, said the state is waiting for contracts to be signed to launch a study on the 4-mile corridor between the bridge and Essen Lane.
DOTD Secretary Sherri Le Bas and others often say they hope to find ways to encourage motorists to use the U.S. 190 Mississippi River bridge as an alternative, especially because it handles only about 29,000 cars and trucks daily.
It is undergoing a $97 million upgrade.
The initial phase includes cleaning, painting and structural steel repairs on the roadway portion of the bridge.
That work began in September 2012 and is expected to be done this fall.
The second phase of the work includes painting, cleaning and structural repairs on the railroad portion of the structure.
The work began in August and is expected to be done in late 2016.
Only about $15 million of the two-prong project includes state funds.
The rest is federal dollars and financing by the Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific railroads.
Berthelot noted that, when traffic backs up on the I-10 bridge, problems often lap over to the U.S. 190 bridge.
“Even if you go north and west, traffic backs up there too,” he said.
DOTD officials said time needed to clear lane obstacles on and near the bridge averaged 24 minutes last year, down from 42 minutes in 2007.