New bridge curfew response is positiveApr 11th, 2012 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: top story
Curfew times for the opening of the Belle Chasse bridge were altered and tested for four weeks, and according to Senator David Heitmeier, motorists’ general response to the changes have been positive. Photo by Jessica Gonzales
For a four week period, curfew times in which the Belle Chasse Bridge does not open to marine traffic were altered and tested, and the official results have yet to be released; but according to the requestor of the changes, State Senator David R. Heitmeier, motorists’ responses to the changes have been positive.
The proposed changes were tested from December 15, 2011 through January 17, 2012 and altered the morning curfew hours from 6 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. to the new time of 6:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. The afternoon curfew was changed from 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., to the new time of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. At 3 p.m. the bridge opened if there were marine vessels waiting and at 6 p.m., the bridge opened to allow the passage of all waiting vessels. At all other times during the day from Monday through Friday, the bridge opened only on the hour for waiting vessels between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.
“Traffic is a major concern in Plaquemines Parish so we tried to brainstorm to find the best way to handle it with the infrastructures we have. That was when we decided to try the structured openings,” said Heitmeier. “From the emails I’ve received from motorists, they liked it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve gotten any negative motorist feedback as of yet.”
Heitmeier says the structured openings allowed drivers to easier plan their commute around the bridge openings, which consequently, alleviated traffic congestion at peak hours.
He pitched the changes to the Coast Guard a year ago, following a meeting with state, local and Coast Guard officials and said the agency was reluctant initially because there is no place for boats to tie up while the bridge is down. Many in the marine industry were also concerned that the changes would have an adverse effect on canal traffic, but Heitmeier explained that he and the Coast Guard have been working diligently to alleviate problems for those traveling via the canal, as well as by highway.
“Currently we’re trying to coordinate an initiative with the marine industry, the Coast Guard and the Corps to put buoys in place so these vessels have somewhere to tie up while the bridge is down,” explained Heitmeier. “I’m very optimistic about reaching a solution for all of this. The speed of the Coast Guard is integral to this, but when you have many agencies involved it’s always a challenge getting everyone on the same page. It is coming together.”
Heitmeier stressed that the ultimate solution for both marine vessels and motorists will be a new fixed bridge which wouldn’t require a lifting mechanism to let boats pass, and would also replace the tunnel which continues to leak.
“A new bridge is my number one infrastructure project going forward, and I’m proud to say that we’re in Phase 2 of that project which is the environmental and feasibility study. That typically takes 18 – 24 months to complete, and depending on those results, we will begin to look for funding sources and designers,” Heitmeier detailed.
As of right now, Heitmeier says the old curfew times are back in place until the results of the study are finalized and released.
When contacted Coast Guard officials and Parish President Billy Nungesser said they would prefer not to comment until the study results are released.