Louisiana Legislature adopts stiffer penalties for Interstate 10 at Whiskey Bay

Staff Report

A bill that would monitor speed on vehicles and impose stiff fines for speeding on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge along Interstate 10 awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

A multi-car pileup in March is among the wrecks caused by speeding and careless driving along the Whiskey Bay Bridge. A bill that would impose stiffer fines, lower speed limits and use of cameras awaits the signature of Gov. John Bel Edwards to become law.

A 78-12 vote last week by the Louisiana House of Representatives gave the green light to Senate Bill 435 sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette.

The bill, which passed without any changes to the draft, will go to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who will either sign it or veto the proposal.

The bill would declare the twin-span a “highway safety corridor,” based on statistics that identify it as a high-collision crash zone resulting in severe injury and fatality due primarily to driver behavior such as speeding, aggressive driving, impairment and distracted driving.

It would also allow for the use of camera safety devices that would be monitored by a third-party group.

Approximately 13 miles of the 18.2-mile artery run through Iberville Parish., stretching from Ramah to the area between Whiskey Bay and Butte La Rose.

If approved, fines for first offense would jump from $175 to $350. A second offense would levy penalties of $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail.

Wrecks along the Atchfalaya Basin Bridge have caused many headaches through the years for motorists and deputies from the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The legislation is long overdue, Sheriff Brett Stassi said.

“That bridge has caused us a lot of misery,” he said. “I’m 100 percent in favor of anything that saves lives.”

Speeding and reckless driving have led to countless wrecks and the loss of lives along the roadway since it opened in 1973, he said.

A total of 269 accidents occurred along the span in 2021. Of those wrecks, two died and 89 were injured.

Through the years, the sheriff’s office has lost more than 20 units due to wrecks along the bridge, according to Stassi.

Speed has been an ongoing problem over the years, and far more than a few miles over the speed limit.

“Historically, we wouldn’t stop drivers until they go maybe 11 over the speed limit, but we’ve clocked motorists going over 100 miles per hour,” he said.

Many of those drivers maintain high speed even amid rainy conditions, which has made the roadway more treacherous, the sheriff said.

The three lawmakers in the Westbank area – Chad Brown, Edmond Jordan and Jeremy LaCombe – all voted in favor of the legislation.

The state would contract with the Safety Corridor Advisory Group to determine the quantity, placement, duration of use and operation of the cameras.

The legislation calls for fines twice the amount than standard penalties imposed for speeding on the bridge.

The proposal comes after dozens of wrecks along the artery, many of which were triggered by speeding along roadways, which are two-lane on both the east and west of the interstate.

Signs would be placed at the eastbound and westbound entrances of the bridge to designate the highway “a safety corridor,” with fines doubled for speeding and other violations.

It would also call for eight sets of speed limit signs equally placed on the eastbound and westbound portions of the bridge.

Additionally, it would limit truck traffic to right lanes in both directions.