PLAQUEMINE — Iberville Parish leaders have said building a new Mississippi River bridge in their parish is the most logical solution to addressing some of the region's traffic issues. And Tuesday night they had their theory confirmed by a new traffic study paid for by the parish.
The study, conducted by Baton Rouge engineering firm Neel-Schaffer, asserts a new bridge located in Iberville would have the greatest impact on reducing traffic along La. 1 and the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge — two pressure points for daily traffic snarls in West Baton Rouge Parish.
The Neel-Schaffer report, which was presented Tuesday to the Iberville Parish Council, claims two proposed locations in Iberville would decrease traffic by more than 30 percent along the La. 1 corridor between the Iberville and West Baton Rouge parish line and divert nearly 10 percent of the vehicles using the I-10 bridge every day.
The traffic study estimates an Iberville bridge would attract between 25,000 to 30,000 cars per day, with 77 percent of that traffic flowing in and out of the parish.
The report claims more than 60,000 vehicles each day travel in and out of the parish — mostly coming to and from work.
The traffic report also includes proposed locations in West Baton Rouge Parish, showing their impact on La. 1's daily traffic was just shy of the Iberville models. However, the West Baton Rouge spots do have a slightly greater reduction on the vehicles using the I-10 bridge.
Neel-Schaffer used 2016 traffic estimates for well-traveled thoroughfares in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Capital Region Planning Commission's transportation model.
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The proposed bridge locations included in the study were culled from a 2016 report from Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions which proposed a list of infrastructure improvements for the Baton Rouge region.
"Now you see, we have 60,000 cars coming into this parish every day," Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso told council members after the report was presented. "These are people that just happen to pass through West Baton Rouge to get to our parish."
"This proves we are warranted a new bridge," he said.
Ourso revealed last month he hired consultants with the TJC Group to lobby on Iberville's behalf regarding the proposed bridge. That move was criticized by Riley "Pee Wee" Berthelot, parish president in West Baton Rouge, who said politics has no place in addressing the region's traffic issues.
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Berthelot and several other leaders have said infrastructure improvements to alleviate traffic congestion — like building a new Mississippi River bridge — need to be data driven and not influenced by politicians.
These leaders claim West Baton Rouge would be the more logical choice for a new bridge given how the recent expansions of several chemical facilities and a steadily growing housing market have exacerbated daily traffic flow along La. 1.
West Baton Rouge leaders are supporting Berthelot's proposal to have a new bridge crossing near Sid Richardson Road just outside Addis town limits. That site would divert traffic from the Interstate 10 bridge, feeding it instead toward River Road and La. 30 in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Ourso's vision is to have the new bridge located near Bayou Goula off La. 405. A bridge at that site would cross over into east Iberville near St. Gabriel, connecting his parish's east and west banks.
Berthelot previously said the Bayou Goula location would have the least impact on easing traffic on La. 1 and the I-10 bridge because motorists would likely not drive that far south to access it.
His compromise: a bridge near the Dow Chemical Plant off La. 1148 in Plaquemine, giving Ourso the Iberville Parish locale he's coveting and a more logical alternative for the frustrated daily commuters in Berthelot's parish. A bridge at the Plaquemine site would cross over the Mississippi onto the La. 991/River Road corridor.
After hearing the data presented in the report Tuesday, Iberville Parish Council Chairman Matt Jewell stood by his previous statements supporting Ourso's location option. And Jewell shot down arguments from Berthelot, who said building a new bridge so far south near Bayou Goula would likely result in it being underused like the John James Audubon Bridge in Pointe Coupee Parish.
"We'd have the same thing if they built it in West Baton Rouge Parish," Jewell said. "To do what (WBR officials) want and divert traffic right into the middle of LSU is crazy. Plaquemine is the most logical place for it."