May 20, 2014 11:57 PM by Alex Labat
Bridges are some of the most vital infrastructure in Louisiana and carry hundreds of thousands of residents to and from their jobs and homes every day. But how safe are those bridges?
According to a report released by the Legislative Auditor's office in April, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is not inspecting the state's bridges as often as they should, according to federal guidelines.
And of the state's nearly 13,000 bridges, more than 1,800 are structurally deficient.
In a state where water is the lifeblood of our economy, bridges have brought our communities together. But in some areas of the state, those bridges are falling apart.
The Long-Allen Bridge in Berwick sees about 6,000 vehicles pass over it on a daily basis. Last week, DOTD has shut down the bridge for road repairs. But with a $14 million price tag, and a 6 out of 100 rating, it's more than just the roads that need to be repaired.
"Since the new bridge was built back in the mid 70's, which was 40 years ago, I would say virtually nothing has been put towards the 182 Bridge," said Louis Ratcliff, who's been the Mayor of Berwick for six years. He said the Long-Allen La. 182 Bridge has been neglected for years. And for a bridge that was erected more than 80 years ago, he says that's unacceptable.
"Take for instance during hurricanes. This is a hurricane evacuation route. Highway 90 is, and the overflow of that traffic comes onto 182. You actually can travel on 182 from Houma, Louisiana all the way to Lafayette. It's a vital part of our emergency evacuation plans," Ratcliff said.
The La. 182 Bridge is rated one of the worst in the state, and has been recommended for replacement at the cost of $14.6 million. That cost makes it the second most expensive repair job in Acadiana. The most expensive job, also located in St. Mary Parish, is U.S. Highway 90 over Bayou Ramos.
"We're one of the only parishes in our region that has rail, water, and interstate. And it only goes through the middle," said Frank Fink, Director of Economic Development in St. Mary Parish.
St. Mary Parish has more than 90 percent of the bridge repair costs needed in Acadiana.
"If you go North, you're in the Atchafalaya Basin. If you go South, you're in the Gulf. There isn't any other way to go. Therefore, when you're evacuating major areas through St. Mary, there's no other way for you to go," Fink said.
The La. 182 Bridge stands as a metaphor for a bigger problem facing the state. Louisiana has a $2.7 billion backlog of repairs, with $300 million needed in Acadiana alone.
"The state is the critical piece in this. And we put a lot of money into gasoline taxes and things like that. For the economy that we drive, not only from St. Mary but for our region, I would think we should get a lot more back," Fink said.
"On the new bridge hardly any maintenance has been done since 1974. So in 40 years we're going to have the same problems on the new bridge as we have on 182," Ratcliff said.