As if things weren't already bad enough on the Baton Rouge's congested highways and byways, drivers have noticed their daily commuting time to and from work double — and even triple — in the days following the historic flooding. 

"I've had people say to me: If so many cars flooded, why does it seem like there is more traffic than before?" state Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson said Tuesday. "We don't have any numerical data right now, but typically after a disaster, you have disrupted driving patterns."

Renae Friedley, who lives off Old Jefferson Highway in Baton Rouge, said it normally took her 30 minutes to get to her job, located near the intersection of Old Hammond Highway and Tara Boulevard, before floodwaters ravaged homes and washed out bridges. 

Now that same drive takes up to an hour and 30 minutes, she said. 

Angela Collins said her once 30-minute daily commute from her home in Addis to her job in Baton Rouge has doubled, post-flooding. 

Denham Springs resident Shanell Carney said the more heavily congested roadways have increased her commute to work by at least 45 minutes. Even going to her gym for a workout, an approximately 30-minute drive, now feels like "a trip to New Orleans," she said.

"There's just a lot of congestion. A lot of trying to avoid the trash on the side of the road; people trying to do a lot of re-routing," Carney said. 

And the ongoing closure of Highway 74 and Bluff Road in Ascension Parish due to floodwaters that have yet to recede has contributed to clogged up area thoroughfares, said Councilwoman Teri Casso.

"Those were two ways people in north Ascension got out of the area," Casso said. "Things are certainly worse."

Casso said the parish's roadways are also experiencing an influx throughout the day due to the "platooning" schedule at Dutchtown High, where students from St. Amant High are sharing the campus while their school is being repaired from flood damage. 

"Four times a day you have school traffic as things transfer between Dutchtown and St. Amant," she said. "I have to tip my hat off to our Sheriff's Department because without the police presence I requested, we could have had absolute gridlock." 

How quickly normal traffic patterns resume will largely depend on how fast flood victims, and the state, can recover, Wilson said.  

"Right now we have about 19 road closures statewide," he said. "There's still a tremendous amount of debris out and about. Not to mention thousands of volunteers that have traveled into the area. You're going to see more traffic. Much like people did after (Hurricane) Katrina."

The number of displaced individuals forced to live with friends and relatives as their homes are restored also disrupt traffic patterns by placing more vehicles in concentrated areas as those victims migrate back and forth from their temporary residences to their damaged homes.   

Wilson said the traffic issues are forcing many drivers into new patterns to get where they need to go, also contributing to longer commutes. 

That's definitely true for Collins, who since the flood has been using the old Mississippi River Bridge on U.S. 190 instead of the Interstate 10 bridge to travel into East Baton Rouge from West Baton Rouge Parish. 

"I have had to take the old bridge four times in the past seven days because the new bridge is completely inaccessible from our side in the mornings," Collins said in an email. "In the evenings, I usually take Burbank to Nicholson because the interstate is backed up."

"Now my mornings are close to an hour and a half and my evenings are an hour," Collins wrote of her commute.

Friedley noticed that much of the traffic she has encountered in the past week was caused by large tractor trailers and trucks hauling debris and supplies, which often takes up two lanes of street.

"I just prepare. I've learned to bring CDs and some bottled water to keep myself entertained," she said. "I lived through Katrina so I knew there would be traffic." 

Wilson is stressing the need for patience from drivers in the coming weeks as folks try to rebuild what they lost and the state attempts to repair bridges and reopen roads.

The state Department of Transportation and Development has six months to make the emergency road repairs in order to capitalize on certain federal grant funds that require fewer matching dollars from the state, Wilson said. 

"That's not saying it's going to take us that long to get things up and running again. That's just an indication of how quickly we'd like to move because anything after that will cost us more money," he said. 


Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.