Iberville Parish President explains need for another Mississippi River bridge to solve today's traffic issues

Shown is the Horace Wilkinson Bridge, commonly referred to as "the new bridge," although it was opened 50 years ago. Parish President Mitchell Ourso says the bridge is insufficient for today's traffic, which according to the La. Department of Transportation and Development carried over 107,000 vehicles in 2005, according to the most recent figures available.

Iberville Parish President Mitchell Ourso has been pushing for a bridge somewhere south of Baton Rouge to ease traffic for years and a bill recently introduced by Sen. Rick Ward (R-Maringouin) could make that dream a reality.

Ward’s bill calls for the formation of a commission to work on a plan to finance the construction and its location. Voters in five parishes will have to approve the creation of the commission – Iberville, East and West Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension.

The commission would be responsible for finding the funding needed – and there are numerous options – and any tax or toll proposed by the group would have to be voted on by the residents of those five parishes.

The state Senate has already passed the proposal and Ward said it would be considered by the House of Representatives Tuesday, after the Post South deadline. If it is approved by the state’s representatives, it would be sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature and then be placed on a future ballot.

The need for another bridge has existed for decades, Ourso said, and as industries continue to expand or construct new plants in Iberville Parish, the problem has escalated since the mid-2000s.

“In the early 2000s, traffic really wasn’t too bad,” he said, but with the construction of Shintech south of Plaquemine and the population distribution created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, traffic “has been a constant issue over the last 12, 13 years.”

“I think the push for a new bridge only started in the mid-2000s,” Ourso said. “But we’ve been blessed here in the greater Baton Rouge area with a good economy,” putting even more traffic on La. 1 and I-10.

“I think that after ’05, if I had to pinpoint it, is when we started having a boom in our industry,” he said, and traffic has only gotten worse since then creating what he considers to be the necessity for a new bridge, according to Ourso.

Ourso said the problem has been amplified with big expansions by Dow, other new industries in Iberville Parish and new subdivisions in West Baton Rouge in the past decade.

“The accommodation of all that construction down here and people who live in Baton Rouge and commuting to Iberville, the growing economic development that’s been going on in the area is going to take a new bridge,” he said, with the “antique ferries” as the only alternative to using the often gridlockedHorace Wilkinson Bridge providing little relief.

“The new plants, the population boom in West Baton Rouge and the out-migration of people from Baton Rouge to Ascension and Livingston, that bridge became an issue because of the added pressure,” Ourso said.

“The east-west connector, I-10, and the new bridge, were designed in the 1960s over 50 years ago and they were not designed for the traffic that’s being produced now,” he continued.

Other elected officials have acknowledged the need for a bridge south of Baton Rouge.

Gov. John Bel Edwards told the Iberville Chamber of Commerce earlier this year a new bridge would cost about $1.3 billion while U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge) told members of the same organization his estimate for the cost of a bridge is approximately $1.2 billion.

“To build a road and a bridge south of Plaquemine and cross the Mississippi River by MSA-West and cross over around St. Gabriel would do wonders for the future of Iberville Parish and help it be the best that it can be,” Ourso said.