May 21, 2014 11:02 PM by Alex Labat
With a close to $3 billion backlog of bridges that need to be fixed or even replaced, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has their work cut out for them.
DOTD estimates that almost half of the estimated cost of repairs are just for three bridges. The US 11 bridge connecting New Orleans to Slidell, the Calcasieu River Bridge section of I-10 in Lake Charles, and the Huey P. Long Bridge section of US 190 in Baton Rouge. Those three bridges alone add up to $1.1 billion, according to a recent legislative audit.
Many have called the recent national report of the bridges in Louisiana a "wake-up call," after it was revealed 1 in 7 bridges in the state should be repaired or replaced. (See an interactive map of critical bridges at the bottom of this story.)
In Acadiana alone, bridge repairs are estimated to cost three hundred and six million dollars. More than 90 percent of the repair funds needed in Acadiana, lie in St. Mary Parish.
Bridges are vital to the economy of a parish covered with waterways, said Frank Fink, the Director of Economic Development in St. Mary Parish.
"When you look at the rural economy and the Energy Corridor, St. Mary is right smack-dab in the middle. And those bridges are absolutely critical," Fink said.
The call for change isn't just coming from St. Mary Parish, either. A report from the state legislative auditor said only 39 percent of bridges in the state rated as fully compliant with federal performance standards.
DOTD has taken steps to improve that, said DOTD spokesperson Deidra Drouilhet.
"We've actually increased our bridge inspection staff. I don't know if you realize this but we have over 13,000 bridges that we inspect in the state of Louisiana," Drouilhet said. D
uring those inspections, bridges are rated on a scale of 0 to 100 (with 100 being the best). The La. 182 bridge in St. Mary Parish is rated at just a 6. But it's not at the top of DOTD's "to-do" list, because DOTD has no list.
"There's not a list. Basically we look at, of course, number one, the need. And then also the funding and the traffic volumes too because that's a big component of those structures as well," Drouilhet said.
Former DOTD secretary Kam Movassaghi, a member of Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, said the lack of prioritization comes with a lack of funding.
"It is a no win game that DOTD is playing. And it's not their fault. It has nothing to do with their capabilities or with their knowledge. Or that they know what to do and what not to do. It is the fact there is just not enough money for them to take care of their needs," Movassaghi said.
So how is it that a department with an almost $1 billion budget cannot fix the bridges in the state of Louisiana?
"If you take all of the money at DOTD, and spend it on nothing but just fixing the bridges, you're going to take two years with the budget at DOTD just to fix the bridges," Movassaghi said.
And DOTD has billions of dollars more of backlog for other infrastructure, like roads. Movassaghi said the problem lies with the state. Budget cuts has left DOTD doing what they can, when they can.
"And now it's time for us to start looking at it. Because as the bridges get older, as we put more and more traffic on it, the rating is going to go down and the rating is going to go down, and that means that bridge is older, and older, and older. And we know the old things cannot perform as well as the young things can. That's in human beings, that's everything. So the bridges are the same way," Movassaghi said.
There are several bills pending in the state legislature that would affect DOTD, including: