Traffic I-12 Baton Rouge Louisiana

Tropical Storm Barry has reawakened fears that the median barriers on Interstate 12 could worsen any flooding in Livingston Parish, a scenario critics say happened during the 2016 flood.

[Update, 10 a.m. Saturday: Barry has been upgraded to a hurricane.]

But a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation and Development said Friday that what took place three years ago is an outlier.

"The concrete barriers are effective safety tools that eliminate crossover crashes in heavy-traffic areas where vehicles typically travel at 70 miles per hour," Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for DOTD, said in an email.

"Safety barriers constructed on Louisiana interstates are designed and constructed according to national standards," Mallett added.

In dispute is what if any role the barriers played in parish flooding from a stretch of I-12 about 19 miles east of Baton Rouge.

A lawsuit filed by the cities of Walker and Denham Springs in January, 2017 contends the barriers essentially created a dam that hindered the flow of water.

The legal challenge targeted DOTD and others.

State officials have disputed the allegations.

Whether any changes have been made to the section in dispute is unclear.

Mallett declined comment because of the litigation.

Like Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, Mallett noted that the 2016 rain event was highly unusual and caused extensive damage statewide.

Wilson said in August 2017 that, while the plans are not an admission of guilt, the state intended to change the way the dividers would be built in the future.

The key part of the redesign means barriers will include slots to let water drain off the interstate during heavy rains. Wilson has said the "barrier slots" will be 2 inches tall and 10-12 inches wide. The openings will be at the bottom of the slab and be spaced around 12-20 feet apart.

Joshua Palmintier, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said then that the state action is a step in the right direction.

But Palmintier had said the state needs to address potential problems with existing barriers.

Wilson had said doing so would be too costly.

Palmintier on Friday declined comment because of the lawsuit.

The challenge is pending in the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge and may be heard in early 2020.


Email Will Sentell @wsentell@theadvocate.com.