Three Possible Sites Eyed For New Baton Rouge Bridge

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has narrowed the sites and alignments for a new bridge over the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge down to three possibilities.

DOTD and Atlas Technical Consultants, the primary consultant for the project, began the process with 32 preliminary alternatives. That number was trimmed down to 20 options and then 10 alternatives earlier this year. Between March and May, DOTD gathered input from stakeholders, the general public, and local, state and federal government leaders before settling on the final three alternatives. The project will now move into the environmental impact study phase. That phase is expected to wrap up by the summer of 2024.

DOTD announced the three preliminary sites under consideration at the May 27 meeting of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District (CARB-D), a committee made up of representatives from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office, DOTD and the parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston and West Baton Rouge.

The three proposed bridge locations are all located in Iberville Parish, between Plaquemine and St. Gabriel. One potential site is located just above Shintech’s Plaquemine facility, while the other two sites under consideration are just below it. All three options would connect LA-30 on the east bank and LA-1 on the west bank.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“The fact that DOTD has held to the initial timeline of this project shows the commitment this administration has to making a new bridge a reality,” Edwards said. “It’s important to note that this entire process must be followed to receive federal approval and federal funds. As we move into the next stage, I encourage CARB-D to continue to follow the federal regulations, keep the public informed and make the best decision possible for the final location.”

An additional crossing over the Mississippi River somewhere between the Baton Rouge bridge and the Sunshine Bridge near Convent, La., has been long-discussed and long-needed. Besides passenger cars, trucks moving in and out of facilities within the ports of Baton Rouge and South Louisiana incur significant delays as they cross the I-10 Horace Wilkinson Bridge in Baton Rouge. This year, the state legislature budgeted $300 million for the project, but that’s only between a fourth and a fifth of the estimated cost of construction. The soonest a new bridge could open to traffic is 2031, depending on funding.

Still, Shawn Wilson, secretary of transportation for the state, said the project is moving in the right direction.

“The decision to select these three locations was based on all the information we have gathered in the past two years,” Wilson said. “The narrowing decision considered traffic and environmental impacts, as well as public comments. This is a monumental milestone to narrow 32 possible sites down to these three. While this bridge has been needed and discussed for decades, this is the closest we have ever been to making this needed bridge a reality. This is yet another example of this administration’s dedication to infrastructure improvements.”

The state plans to use tolls through a public-private partnership for a period of up to 50 years to offset some costs of construction.

DOTD has met with the maritime industry, including the river pilots that operate between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to refine bridge and pier placement plans in order to minimize the impacts to navigation.

“The vetting process to determine acceptable bridge locations included ensuring bridge pier placement would not compromise navigational safety or commerce on the Mississippi River Ship Channel,” said Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition. “Several coordinated meetings were conducted to ensure that navigation representatives and the NOBRA and Federal Pilot associations were allowed to strike unacceptable waterside locations. The final three alternatives were approved with the consent of the navigation experts after over a dozen other potential locations.”

And while a new bridge won’t necessarily drive more river traffic, a new roadway option will improve operations for river-based industry in the region.

“Anyone that has ever traveled between Baton Rouge and New Orleans knows just how critically important it is to build a new bridge across the Mississippi River,” said Paul Matthews, CEO of the Port of South Louisiana. “The success of our port and its facilities in feeding and fueling America and the world depends on having trucks able to move goods in an efficient and timely manner. Our port has prioritized the need to support regional infrastructure transportation projects. We’re thrilled to see that this project is one step closer to reality and narrowed to three possible sites.”

A Port of New Orleans spokesperson said, “The Port of New Orleans supports the new bridge that will alleviate congestion between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The bridge, as well as other state of Louisiana investments in highway transportation and roadway capacity, stands to benefit Louisiana’s exporters and the cargo and cruise operations at Port NOLA.”