I-10 bridge task force chair: Wednesday crash highlights need for new bridge

Published 5:58 pm Friday, September 24, 2021

The chairman of the Interstate 10-Calcasieu River Bridge Task Force said Wednesday’s accident on the aging bridge that resulted in a fire and subsequent closure into part of Thursday highlights the lingering need for a new bridge.

Officials with Louisiana State Police Troop D said two vehicles were involved in the crash on the bridge’s eastbound lanes, with one striking the 18-wheeler and causing it to become engulfed in flames. Minor injuries were reported.

The fire forced the bridge to close Wednesday evening and into Thursday morning so that Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development crews could inspect it. Both westbound lanes were reopened early Thursday afternoon, with one of the eastbound lanes opened a few hours later. More testing is needed before the second eastbound lane is reopened, DOTD officials said.

Keith Durousseau, I-10 bridge task force chairman, said Friday that while accidents happen on bridges, the frequency of accidents on the I-10 bridge is higher because it is so antiquated. The bridge was opened in 1952 and lacks many standard features found on more modern bridges.

Shutting down the I-10 bridge for any amount of time can cause economic problems, especially with the frequent drivers who cross it daily, Durousseau said. A McNeese State University economist hired by the task force last year estimated that closing the I-10 bridge has an impact of at least $1 million per hour, to up to $2 million per hour.

“We need to keep the transportation and supply chains open, and we’re not being responsible with an outdated, unsafe bridge,” he said.

DuRousseau said the task force remains committed to working with the state Department of Transportation and Development, along with Congress, to speed up the replacement of the I-10 bridge.

“We have to come together and expedite replacement,” he said.

An environmental impact statement on the new I-10 bridge project is currently under review by the Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA, he said. A record of decision by the FHWA is expected by the first quarter of 2022. That move would trigger requests for proposals to select the P3 partners in the public-private partnership. After that step, engineering, design and construction would follow, he said.

DuRousseau said he was concerned that the DOTD had not released an official statement on the condition of the I-10 bridge after Wednesday’s fire and inspection. As of Friday, the District 7 website, which includes Calcasieu Parish, had not issued a statement on the bridge inspection.