Public Wants Fixed Bridge in Belle Chasse

The consensus is that the vast majority of Belle Chasse residents do not want another lift-bridge. They want the ease of a 100-foot fixed bridge: no waiting for passing marine traffic, no operator to pay, no mechanical equipment needing regular maintenance.

The online survey hosted by Senator David Heitmeier, O.D., showed more than 80 percent of respondents voted for the fixed bridge, while only 12 percent voted for
the 70-foot lift bridge, and 6 percent for the 60-foot lift bridge.

The survey echoes the sentiments expressed to Burk-Klienpeter representatives present at last week’s bridge/tunnel replacement meeting. With no formal presentation, residents went from table to table with maps and other informational material.
Burk-Klienpeter reps, at least one, but sometimes two, manned each table to answer resident questions. At the end of the meeting, the representatives noted that unless someone was directly affected by the fixed bridge’s footprint—mostly business owners and a few residents— people strongly wanted the fixed bridge.

“They should have did this [fixed] bridge when they did the first bridge and then we wouldn’t have this chaos,” said Jacklynn Lemoine referring to both the meeting
and the daily traffic delays, her friend Carol Cooper nodding in agreement.

The Impact
“There are pros and cons to all of [the replacement alternatives], especially for the
businesses,” said Fran Martinez, a school board member from District 5. Martinez and a group of home and business owners on L Street gathered around a map of the 100-foot bridge layout. Its footprint has the bridge’s south-of-the-canal start at L Street, where Delta Tires is located. The 100-foot bridge has no service road on the south side of the canal.

To get access to Barriere Road, (which as a completely separate project, is planned to be four-lanes), a road will be constructed taking land from the business owners on Hwy. 23 and L Street, and a few homes on L Street.
“I don’t think people are looking at the impact, because there is still going to be impact,” said Michele Greco, an L Street resident for 27 years, citing businesses and roads that would close, and residents forced to relocate.

Consider businesses, says Pam Galle, and what happens when businesses close.

“We’ll lose a lot of taxes coming into the parish,” she said, alluding to the sales- and
property-taxes that will be lost if the businesses just shut their door for good or relocate
outside Plaquemines.

There will be no access for businesses along Highway 23 from L Street to the canal. This area has both established businesses but also two new strip malls built about four years ago. Residents looking over the 100-foot bridge maps just shook their heads in frustration to see that the maps used were so old the two strip malls had
not yet been built.

“Under the 100-foot plan, it would hurt,” said Corey Arbourgh, General Manager
of Bayou Barriere Golf Club. “The plan sends all of my customers—conservatively
40,000 cars per year— through subdivisions.”

“Once this is serious, just have the affected businesses meet,” suggested Arbourgh.

Money and Tolls

The costs of the three options are relatively close:
• 100-foot fixed bridge: $201 million
• 70-foot lift bridge: $189.3 – $198 million
• 60-foot lift bridge: $170 – $179 million.

“It should eventually be cost affective to build the fixed bridge,” reasoned Stanley Gaudet of Jesuit Bend, meaning that with no lift equipment to maintain and replace, and no bridge tender to employ, the savings make the fixed bridge the most cost effective option.

“It would be stupid to spend $198 million on a lift bridge,” said Belle Chasse resident Irvin Juneau. “It would be twice as stupid to put a toll on it.”

Much of the conversations at the meeting focused on a potential toll. Parish President Billy Nungesser, in a Tuesday morning interview on WWL 870 radio with Tommy Tucker, said that getting a private company in to build a 60-foot bridge and toll it until it was paid off would be a quicker solution than waiting for state and federal dollars; the 60-foot lift bridge would not interrupt current traffic flow and would not force some businesses and residents to relocated.

It is not a popular solution, even among other elected officials.

“I’m not advocating a toll for the Highway 23 bridge,” said Heitmeier several times throughout the meeting to Belle Chasse residents. He said tolls were never a part of his plan for replacing the bridge and tunnel.

“We’re going to need local money, state money and federal money,” said Heitmeier.
But he said he is confident that funding will come through. “It’s an important artery with significant commerce— oil and gas.”

Projects like the bridge and tunnel replacement require more meetings and public hearings.

“I’m 70,” said Juneau. “I’m hoping it will be done when I’m 85.”

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