NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As early as this summer, motorists could start to see major safety improvements in place on the Causeway Bridge.
On good weather days, construction crews are hard at work on the multi-million dollar project in Lake Pontchartrain.
Causeway Bridge General Manager Carlton Dufrechou said crews will be on barges driving a total of 192 piles in the lake.
The work started last week, preparing the bridge for new safety bays.
“They’re starting to drill into the existing pile caps and putting reinforcement bars in that will connect to the new segmented shoulders, the safety bays,” Dufrechou said.
The new safety bays, or shoulders, will be about 1000 feet long and there will be six going each way.
Dufrechou said countless accidents and deaths on the bridge contributed to the need for improvements. There were 170 accidents last year that caused traffic jams, and each day police respond to 10 to 12 breakdowns.
“Right now, the only emergency stopping areas are the seven crossovers that are almost between three-to-four miles apart,” Dufrechou explained.
He said the segmented shoulders will more than quadruple the emergency stopping area on the bridge. That will cut the distance in half so anybody who has a problem can find a safe place to pull off of the road faster.
While tolls increased on the bridge from three dollars to five dollars, Doufrechou said the safety upgrades would be much cheaper than building a new bridge.
“That would be $1.7 billion which would require a toll ranging from $30 to $35 depending on financing. It’s kind of like New York prices,” he said.
With work already underway, the first shoulder could be completed as early as this summer. Dufrechou said, weather permitting, he hopes to have the entire project finished by next spring.