A controversial exit route off the new Mississippi River Bridge may be undone by October, a state official said Thursday.
“We are inclined to make the changes,” said Shawn Wilson, chief of staff for Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Wilson made his comments after legislation aimed at changing an exit launched in August won approval in the state Senate Transportation Committee.
The measure, House Concurrent Resolution 119, has already passed the House.
The Senate is the bill’s final hurdle.
A concurrent resolution is an expression of legislative sentiment but does not carry the force of law.
DOTD officials have said they plan to make the changes because of complaints from motorists and officials.
Before the switch, westbound motorists on the three-lane stretch could leave the bridge toward Plaquemine and Port Allen from the middle or right lanes.
The new traffic rules require westbound traffic on the bridge headed for La. 1 to use the right “exit only” lane.
Critics contend that has triggered a rash of accidents.
There have been about three dozen crashes since August, and 14 since February, according Ken Albarez, deputy sheriff for the traffic division of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“By the time August rolls around we may be up to 50,” Albarez told the committee.
He said that compares with five crashes in the previous year.
Albarez also said there are numerous skid marks in the exit lane, a sign of near-misses for cars and trucks leaving the bridge.
“It has definitely, definitely been a burden on our department,” Albarez said of the new exit route.
The president of West Baton Rouge Parish, Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot, said he has heard more complaints about the issue than any in roughly 20 years of holding public office.
“I have never had a complaint that it was a problem before,” Berthelot told lawmakers, a reference to earlier striping that allowed cars and trucks to exit from the center and right lanes.
About 56,000 westbound motorists use the bridge daily, according to DOTD.
About 35,000 are headed toward Lafayette, 14,000 to Plaquemine and 7,000 to Port Allen.
The decision to limit exit traffic to one lane stemmed in part from the fact that 88 percent of bridge traffic used the left and center lanes.
Some Lafayette-bound motorists have complained that, since the change, they face backups leaving downtown Baton Rouge because of traffic tie-ups on the revamped Plaquemine and Port Allen exit route.
Outside of the committee meeting, Wilson said October is the target date for the re-striping because state officials need time to review traffic data, which has been in dispute between state and local officials.
Cost estimates of the re-striping range from $50,000 to $100,000.
The resolution is sponsored by state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, and Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete.