The Lake Charles Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution in support of Alternative 5G as the design for a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge.
Local officials called the decision a huge step forward in replacing the existing I-10 bridge that is nearly 70 years old and far exceeds the amount of daily traffic it was originally designed to handle. President Joe Biden discussed the need for a new bridge during a stop in Lake Charles last week, while former President Donald Trump promised a new bridge, if re-elected, while visiting Hackberry in May 2019.
“We are certainly closer today to obtaining this bridge than we have been in the last 30 years,” said Nic Hunter, Lake Charles mayor and Transportation Policy Committee member.
A new I-10 bridge will impact generations of Southwest Louisiana residents, said Wes Crain, committee chairman.
“I’m looking at possibly my grandkids having that experience and having something that really we can be proud of for our community,” he said. “This is a bridge that is connecting a major corridor through the southern part of this country that goes from California to Florida. There is lots of commerce that goes across this bridge.”
The Metropolitan Planning Organization will request the state Department of Transportation and Development consider Alternative 5G as the design for the new I-10 bridge. With an estimated cost of $947 million, it is the cheapest of the three alternatives proposed by the state DOTD.
The committee’s resolution includes several iconic features in the bridge design: cross pistols representative of the existing I-10 bridge, pedestrian/bicycle paths, an observation tower, LED lighting and a cable-stayed feature, in the event the new bridge does not have a cable-stayed design. These features can be removed if the submitted bids are higher than expected, something Hunter recommended during the meeting.
“Having a design is great, but having the money to build it is essential,” he said.
Hunter said he prefers the new bridge be built without tolls. However, a “modest, feasible toll” should not be ruled out if no other funding options exist, he said.
“If we turn our backs on that option, 20-30 years down the road, I believe that history would judge us poorly,” Hunter said.
Sulphur Mayor Mike Danahay said travelers going eastbound along I-10 will pay the majority of the tolls.
“We’re going to be the ones most impacted; keep that in mind, please,” he said.
Jim Rock, a member of the I-10 Bridge Task Force, supported adding the iconic features to the design proposal.
“I think that’s our best shot at getting everything we want is having the bidders understand what the whole package is and be competitive, hopefully,” he said. “Letting them know what we really want from the outset is the best path to take.”
Patrick Hennigan — a civil engineer from Westlake who supports keeping the existing I-10 bridge as a “green bridge” concept — asked if the bid package would include costs to maintain and repair the existing bridge. The proposal only includes funding for demolition of the existing bridge, currently budgeted at $14 million.
The state DOTD will offer the existing bridge for purchase by a public or private entity, with a buyer being responsible for maintenance and liability of the bridge. The bridge will be demolished if there are no buyers.
Hunter said he respected Hennigan’s effort in seeking a unique plan to retain the existing bridge, but could not fully support the concept.
After the committee’s vote, Hunter said replacing the I-10 bridge is “an American problem.”
“It is an American conduit for our economy for transportation across the Gulf coast,” he said.
The committee broke out into applause upon approving the resolution.
“Let’s get this bridge built,” Crain said. “It’s been a long time coming.”