Dr. Michael Kurth, Professor Emeritus for the McNeese State University College of Business, is sounding an alarm about the upcoming Prien Lake Bridge rehabilitation project.
The local economist told Sulphur Rotarians last week that a study by the state’s transportation department considered potential congestion, but not safety issues.
One of Kurth’s safety concerns is the plan to reroute truck traffic to the I-10 bridge when the I-210 bridge is down to just one lane on each side. “The I-10 bridge is notorious,” he said. “It is the worst bridge for truckers in the entire nation because of the grade.”
Kurth said merging onto the bridge from Westlake is a “live or die moment” with only 50 yards in which to dart in front of 18-wheelers “going 75 miles an hour so they can get over the top of the bridge.”
He said the choice facing motorists is to either pick up speed in order to get in front of a truck or come to a complete stop. “If you come to dead stop, at an exit on the interstate, you’re not going to get on for the next week,” he said.
Kurth said presently there are two ways to travel west across the United States in the south: the I-10 bridge and the I-210 bridge.
“If something happens, (accidents on both bridges or their approaches), you cannot reroute the traffic south,” he said. “You gonna take the Cameron Ferry?”
The current DOTD plan, in the event both bridges are blocked, calls for rerouting along two roads. One is north on Hwy. 378 through Moss Bluff and the other is on Hwy. 27 through Sulphur up to Hwy. 12. “That’s not an acceptable option,” he said.
Kurth said that while short-term solutions for increasing traffic flow are necessary, long-term planning is crucial. “They need to get another way to go east-west,” he said. “Whether that’s a I-610 loop, or a smaller loop just to get across the water. We need more than just two ways to cross that river.”
Kurth cautioned that the boom currently underway is not over.
“Sasol is just getting started,” he said. “When everything is done in this area, we could have 30,000 to 50,000 more people in the parish in the next 10 to 15 years,” he said. “We know where they’re going to go — toward Carlyss, up Hwy. 27, out towards Iowa. So where is the planning in anticipation of the growth?”
Kurth said the fact that funding for schools is through district bonding and not parish-wide, schools can’t be built in anticipation of population increases. “The plan is pods. More and more pods,” he said. “They’re not going to anticipate where the population grows to build a new school. You’ve got to have a crisis before you warrant any attention.”