Engineers from a Baton Rouge-based consulting firm met with property owners and vessel users along the Calcasieu River on Monday to get feedback on the state’s 13-year-old report that calls for the new I-10 bridge to be lowered by more than 60 feet.
Dubbed “a fact-finding mission,” Jacob Parker and Deborah Sheets, engineers from Stantec, told the group that a survey from the state Department of Transportation and Development will be sent out in the next couple of weeks, requiring them to fill out information on their vessels, including length, type and plans to purchase additional ships in the future.
Owners have until May 9 to complete the survey and return it to Stantec. DOTD hired Stantec to conduct the survey and compile a report with recommendations for the department. Once DOTD officials have reviewed the report, Parker said, it will then be sent to the U.S. Coast Guard, which will ultimately decide whether the bridge will be lowered.
The current I-10 bridge stands 135 feet above the Calcasieu River. The state’s 2001 report recommends that the new bridge be lowered to 73 feet, nearly half its height.
Parker said the report’s drafting will begin in June and will be completed “sometime in October.”
“We have been contracted by the Department of Transportation to verify the study done previously,” Parker said. “Right now the main issue is in order to maintain (the bridge’s) current height you would have to extend the approaches way farther back than what they are now, displacing a lot more people.”
The two-hour meeting, held at Friend Ships in North Lake Charles, focused on the history behind the state’s proposal to lower the bridge and potential impacts a 60-foot drop in the structure’s height will have on the region’s maritime businesses.
Parker said the current Federal Highway Administration’s requirements state that an Interstate can no longer be built on a grade as steep as the I-10 Bridge is today. The current bridge was built between 1949 and 1952.
“In order to make it a safer bridge for the travelling public, it needs to be at a lower grade,” Parker added.
Don Tipton, owner of Friend Ships and the four vessels docked at his facility, said the Coast Guard determined the bridge’s current height. He told Stantec’s consultants that they will have to get the Coast Guard to “reconsider and revisit their entire philosophy” on the bridge’s height.
“You’re asking them to lower (the bridge) from a height they said it would have to be in order for it to be built in the first place,” Tipton said. “We will oppose every inch to lower it in any way we can.”
Local Activist Charlie Atherton argued that the bridge’s height has “tourist attraction value.” He also said the Calcasieu River running below it does not typically need to be dredged.
“In some places you’ve got water that’s 80-feet deep,” he said. “If you need to dredge it, it will be a one-shot deal.”
Mark Boudreaux of Orion Construction said Stantec’s consultants should not go by the river’s recent ship traffic records when they compile their report for the state.
“The reason that a lot of ships have not come up here is because of some other things,” he said. “I’m reminded of the saltwater barrier. They shut the saltwater barrier down for a half a day because of past records. If other people saw the potential and the development there would be more ships coming through.”
Atherton told the American Press that the meeting marked the first time in 13 years that the Coast Guard was even mentioned in a discussion on the bridge’s height.
“This is a Coast Guard issue,” he said. “The Coast Guard will ultimately determine the height of that bridge. Not the state.”