Causeway safety projects speed ahead

Don Ames
September 24, 2018 - 6:56 am

Dual projects to improve safety on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway are moving forward at full speed. 

One will improve the southbound span's railings, which are shorter than those on the northbound bridge. 

The other will add six shoulder segments to the outside of each span. 

"The test pile program is complete on the southbound bridge for the segmented shoulders, the safety bays," says Causeway General Manager, Carlton Dufrechou.

That test program consisted of driving three 120-foot pilings 100 feet down into the mud at the bottom of Lake. And, there are many more of the concrete pillars to come. 

"The pile production is underway right now in Pass Christian. There'll be 189 more piles, 192 total for the project." 

The pilings will support the new shoulders on the outside of each span, spaced equally between the crossovers. Each will be 1,000 feet long and about 15 feet wide. They'll offer motorists a safe place to pull off the road instead of stopping in the traffic lanes when they experience engine troubles or other problems.

"The pile driving should start right after Halloween or very early November of this year," says Dufrechou. "And the rails are out for bid. The pre-bid conference was this past Tuesday. The submittal of the bid comes in, I believe, October 9th. Both projects should be full bore the first of the year and we hope to have them both completed by Christmas of 2019."

"The first segmented shoulder may be open as early as June of next year. And then they'll probably open up about one per month. There'll be 12 total, subsequent."

Much of the work will be done by crews on floating barges, and lane closures will be minimized and restricted to night hours, Dufrechou said.

To pay for all the work, tolls on the Causeway, which had remained unchanged since the mid-1990s, and even longer for those with toll tags, were raised in May 2017.

The toll increases — from $3 to $5 for cash customers and from $2 to $3 for those with toll tags on two-axle vehicles — were levied on the southbound span. There are no tolls on the northbound bridge. 

"The bonding is $100 million dollars for both projects," says Dufrechou. "And, at the current rate...I believe it's like $7 million per year of the toll...I believe the tolls are paid off in about 30, 35 years."

Dufrechou has stressed the need for the new safety measures for years.

"We're really pleased with the progress so far. "These are the most significant safety improvements for the Causeway since the second span was completeted in 1969. So, this will really get us into the 21st century."

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