Consultant: Environmental studies next step in bridge location choice

Staff Report

The final decision on where to build a new Mississippi Bridge to connect La. 1 to La. 30 now hinges on the results of environmental studies, a consultant for the project told the Iberville Parish Council last week.

The three possible sites could be narrowed down to one within two years, according to Kara Moree of Atlas Technical Consultants, the primary consulting firm working with the state Department of Transportation and Development on the project.

The site selection is the next hurdle for the project, which has been on the Iberville Parish wish list for nearly 25 years.

The three possible sites for a new Mississippi River bridge could be narrowed down to one within two years, according to consultants.

“I’ve been fighting for this megaproject and most of you have been fighting for it for most of the last 24 years, to see this bridge through,” Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso told the Parish Council member after Moree’s presentation. “Ten, fifteen or twenty years from now, I think you’ll see a big difference for what it does for this parish if it is built in terms of traffic as well as economically here.”

Atlas and the Capital Area Road and Bridge Commission “squeaked in” right under the deadline to narrow the megaproject to three sites, which helped it secure the $300 million in initial funding from the Louisiana Legislature before the 2022 session ended June 6, she said.

Atlas and the commission worked over the last year to whittle the project from more than 30 sites down to three. The sites were dotted along a four-parish area – Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville and West Baton Rouge – 62 miles along the Mississippi River from the Wilkinson Bridge (the new Mississippi River Bridge) up to the Sunshine Bridge, south of Donaldsonville.

Everything from navigability to traffic, down to quality of life figured into the decision-making process, she told the Council.

“We started out doing a navigation study, meeting the coast guard and anyone involved along the river,” Moree said.

“We took average daily traffic, but it’s more about connectivity and providing alternate access for emergency situations,” she said. “While traffic was the goal of it, it wasn’t the whole kit and kaboodle in the decision-making process.”

Estimated toll revenue also figured into the equation.

“This will definitely be a toll bridge,” she said.

Traffic made up a third of the decision making, while wetlands and human impact made up the rest of the decision making, she said.

The site near Evergreen Road, adjacent to Shintech, remains the most prospective site. It placed first among the top three sites.

A site south of Shintech near White Castle was second, while one north of Dow that connects to La. 30 near Bluebonnet in Baton Rouge ranked third, Karee said.

“Traffic made up a third of the decision making, while wetlands and human impact made up the rest of the decision making,” she said. “While traffic was the goal of it, it wasn’t the whole kit and kaboodle in the decision-making process.”

The most important decision, however, hinged upon public response.

The public outreach played a major role in the decision. It pulled the project away from a proposed site that would have begun in West Baton Rouge Parish and extended to an area south of LSU.

The strong turnout of residents at both Iberville Parish forums in May played a major role.

Six meetings were held for the project – two in Iberville, two in Ascension and one each in East Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge parishes.

“We really needed the public input to narrow down the sites,” Karee said.

Other factors included screenings on average daily traffic, vehicle hours, constructional ability, navigability, property impact, right-of-way and levee issues.”