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Who would a new Baton Rouge bridge benefit most: local commuters or cross-country trucks?

mississippi bridge.jpg
Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator
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The Interstate 10 Horace Wilkinson Bridge is congested with traffic crossing the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge on Monday, Sept. 29, 2021.

As a state panel mulls the ideal location for a new Mississippi River bridge in the capital region, a recent study revealed that 80% of daily drivers using the existing Interstate 10 bridge are local motorists.

The findings, presented by the firm Atlas Technical Consultants at Monday’s meeting of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, seem to confirm that it is local drivers, not cross-country trucks, that are primarily responsible for the daily traffic snarls that plague the region.

After more than two years of preliminary studies, the Capital Area Road and Bridge District identified three possible crossing sites for the new bridge, all of which are located in Iberville Parish south of Plaquemine on the river’s west bank and St. Gabriel on the east.

The announcement of the three finalists prompted some concern from area residents and local officials who feared the new bridge, which is expected to carry a price tag of more than $3 billion, would be too far to lure away enough big trucks to alleviate traffic congestion for local users of the Interstate 10 bridge.

But Kara Moree, project manager for Atlas Technical Consultants, the firm advising the state panel tasked with selecting the new bridge site, said those concerns are built on a misunderstanding of the source of the region’s current traffic problems.

“This existing traffic information reiterates the fact that our new river crossing would be more of a local bridge crossing,” Moree said. “That’s the key to what the problem is now.”

Moree added that trucks comprise only 15% of daily bridge traffic. Only 18% of eastbound motorists pass through the Baton Rouge metropolitan area without stopping.

“It’s almost unbelievable to have 80% local traffic,” said Fred Raiford, East Baton Rouge Parish’s director of drainage and transportation. “It’s a little eye opening.”

Moree said that she also had expected trucks to make up a larger portion of daily traffic on the bridge.

“My perception was that it’s probably 50-50,” Moree said. “But in reality, when you go outside and see that I-10 bridge, what you usually see are the big trucks. They’re more noticeable. But what you don’t see or notice are the 10 cars surrounding that one truck.”

A further breakdown of the traffic data shows that of the approximately 126,000 drivers that cross the bridge each day, nearly one-third enter or exit the interstate via La. Highway 1 — a major corridor to the largest residential areas and industrial facilities in West Baton Rouge Parish.

Moree said the proposed locations for the new bridge would be particularly beneficial to the growing number of people who live or work in the communities and industrial facilities in Ascension Parish.

The new bridge is expected to draw 24,000 cars and trucks away from the existing I-10 bridge each day.

The new data on bridge usage will be incorporated into the lengthy environmental and community impact studies the consulting firm is conducting to vet the project and qualify it for potential federal funding opportunities. The panel plans to select a final bridge site by 2024.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.