METAIRIE, La. - About seven times a day, Causeway crews help broken-down motorists stranded somewhere along the nearly 24-mile span.
The small step and hand rail provide a safe haven out of the traffic lanes.
"The railing was really built for the motorists, when they got out of the car, that they could hold onto something," said Commission Chairman Larry Rase. "It's not built to hold the cars on, so you could knock that railing out real quick and then it makes it a lot lower."
Too low to keep some larger vehicles from plunging into the lake below. That's happened nine times since 1995, including the latest crash Monday killed 19-year-old Miguel Rodriguez.
Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou told the Commission Wednesday that something needs to be done to strengthen the barriers on the southbound side.
Dufrechou said a common practice used along interstates around the country would be to add a triangle-shaped barrier and eliminate the step. It's considered the quickest and least expensive fix - but one he can't recommend.
"If we lose this, we're putting them in the roadway which would be catastrophic," he said, referring to stranded drivers. "We're putting people right into oncoming traffic, which we can't have."
Another idea under consideration would be to add shoulders along the entire bridge, a project that would cost an estimated $750 million.
Causeway Commissioner Steve Romig said a third plan would be to build safety bays between the crossovers.
"When somebody breaks down, if you don't break down by the crossover, do you break down by the safety bay?" Romig asked. "It won't solve our entire problem, but it's something that's certainly more cost-efficient than trying to do shoulders on the whole bridge."
The Causeway board commissioned the help of researchers at Texas A&M's Transportation Institute to find a fix for the southbound side. Those researchers will use information collected over the bridge's long history, including Monday's crash, to figure out how to make it safer.
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