NEW ORLEANS, LA. — Another vehicle jumped the low railings of the southbound lanes of the Pontchartrain Causeway Monday morning, plummeting into the lake below.
Authorities investigating the accident said that a Toyota Tundra pickup truck attempting to change lanes collided with a Ford F150, forcing the Ford off the bridge. The Ford’s driver emerged from the lake moments after the crash with minor injuries. He was the only occupant of the vehicle.
Monday’s accident was the 15th time in 20 years a vehicle has accidentally leapt the low railings and crashed into the lake, underscoring once again the need for safety improvements on the busy span.
The Causeway is the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. When the southbound stretch opened in 1956, there were far fewer trucks and other high-profile vehicles on the road, and total traffic was about a fifth of what it is today. The railings, in fact, were built as hand railings and not designed to prevent vehicles with a high center of gravity from toppling over the side.
All but one of the 15 overboard accidents have occurred on the southbound span of the bridge, which begins in Mandeville, La., and crosses the lake about 24 miles to Metairie.
A motorist who saw the Ford tumble off the bridge stopped and tossed a rope over the side to give the driver something to hold onto. Causeway police officer Cpl. Mike Melton arrived moments later and jumped into lake to help the driver, whom he said was getting tired from treading. Rescue workers tossed the men a ring and hoisted them back onto the bridge with a crane.
Authorities closed the Causeway to traffic Monday afternoon to recover the sunken Ford. Images of the vehicle being hoisted from the water show long stretches of the bridge railing had impaled the vehicle.
The Causeway Commission has studied the bridge’s safety issues extensively and backs a proposed $103-million project that would improve safety railing on the southbound span and create shoulders so that impaired vehicles can move safely out of traffic’s way.
The proposed plan would be funded by a toll increase of $1 for drivers with a toll tag and $2 for drivers without the pass.
“… Everything we do on this bridge is about our commuters, and it is imperative that we make safety improvements to get the bridge into the 21st century,” Causeway executive director Carlton Dufrechou told WDSU Channel 6 New Orleans.