Truck's plunge off Causeway renews southbound safety concerns - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Truck's plunge off Causeway renews southbound safety concerns

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NEW ORLEANS - The solid concrete barriers along the northbound lanes of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway have been effective over the years, but on the southbound side, the shorter railings haven't been enough to keep several vehicles from going over.

"When you drive across it every day, it's definitely something that you think about, and it's something that you should consider when you come across," said Pete Burkhalter, a commuter from Mandeville.

Three vehicles have plunged into the lake this year, including one Monday which claimed the life of a 19-year-old man. It was the 10th such incident in the last 20 years on the Causeway.

According to Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou, all of them happened on the southbound side.

"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," he said.

Dufrechou said the southbound span met safety standards when it was built in 1956 - 13 years before the northbound side. But the risks increased as more trucks and other large vehicles began hitting the road - a reason officials want to raise the barrier.

"Almost all the vehicles that have gone over have been a high-profile vehicle," Dufrechou said. "Our consulting engineers have been looking at (possible safety enhancements) religiously for almost a year now."

There's a big problem, however.

If crews were to install the typical triangle-shaped barriers commonly seen along interstates, it would cut into the curb area where people can stand when a vehicle stalls.

"The traditional answers that have worked on other bridges or other roadways won't work here because the Causeway is 24 miles long," Dufrechou said. "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."

Another challenge is money. Dufrechou said the cost to revamp safety features on both bridges would reach - at the very least - $28 million.

Regardless, he said it's a top priority.

"The bottom line is, it's got to be done, and we've got to go back to the basics of what built this bridge in 18 months almost 60 years ago: to get back to the true American ingenuity," Dufrechou said. "That's what we're trying to do right now."

Causeway officials recently applied for two separate grants, but the money went elsewhere, sending them back to the drawing board.

They're now working to identify other options.

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