NEW ORLEANS, La. — Lake Pontchartrain Causeway officials told New Orleans’ WVUE that the bridge’s southbound lanes need to undergo safety improvements to prevent more trucks and other vehicles from plunging into the lake, a tragically common problem on the 60-year old span.
Three vehicles have careened off the side of the Pontchartrain Causeway this year alone, and all of those accidents occurred on the southbound side. The most recent accident occurred on Monday afternoon when a truck driven by a 19-year-old man jumped the low guardrails and crashed into the lake. Authorities are still searching for the man’s body.
“The top of the concrete barrier, the rail, side rails, is actually about 6 inches shorter than the northbound, and that appears to be what makes the big difference in almost all of these instances,” Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou told WVUE.
Mr. Dufrechou said that the Causeway’s southbound span met all safety standards when it was built in 1956, 13 years before the northbound span. Throughout the years, however, an increasing number of trucks and other large vehicles cross the bridge, which means the rate of bridge accidents has also increased.
Mr. Dufrechou told WVUE that nearly all of the vehicles that have careened into Lake Pontchartrain from the bridge have been “high-profile” vehicles, leaving officials hard-pressed to figure out how to improve safety on the longest continuous bridge in the world.
Barriers that work on other roads won’t work on the Causeway because they would eat up space at the curb where people can stand after a vehicle failure.
“The traditional answers that have worked on other bridges or other roadways won’t work here because the Causeway is 24 miles long,”Mr. Dufrechou told WVUE. “It is still the longest bridge over open water anywhere in the world, and we need those curbs. If we lose those, I’m really concerned we’re putting more people in jeopardy.”
Cost is also prohibitive. Mr. Dufrechou told WVUE the cost to adequately improve the bridge’s safety would cost $24 million, and much possibly more. The Causeway recently applied for two grants, but both were declined. Mr. Dufrechou said he and consulting engineers continue to study possible solutions “religiously” and that true American ingenuity would likely get the job done.