Police jurors to discuss I-10 bridge height

September 5, 2007
by Theresa Schmidt

The Minnesota bridge tragedy put the safety of bridges in the spot light. Now, local leaders believe it's time to get funding to replace substandard bridges-- like the Interstate 10 Calcasieu River Bridge. But there's disagreement about the proposed height of the new bridge.  That controversy could leave Calcasieu empty handed.

Volunteers sitting at picnic table outside, chop potatoes that will be used to make soup to be sent to Peru for earthquake victims. Their place of work is at the end of North First Avenue, where Friend Ships is based.  Don Tipton is the founder and director.  "We gather here at Port Mercy,  hundreds of millions of dollars in commodities free of charge and take it around the world to these people in times of trouble and generally civil wars and things where people are in desperate need."

Yet Tipton says,  if a new I- 10 bridge is built with a 73 foot clearance as proposed, their ships cannot go back and forth. "It will just cut us out. It will stop our ships from transiting. And not only will millions of children be without and the elderly and people all over the world but it will bring such an economic hardship on us it would probably destroy us now."

In committee,  Calcasieu Police Jurors agreed 73 feet is adequate and would save more than $10 million dollars compared to the next cheapest option.  Plus officials say higher is not as safe. Administrator Mark McMurry says the best solution may be to help Friend Ships re-locate.  "I think they do a wonderful job and we certainly would want to try to accommodate them but perhaps not to put 50,000 or more cars a day at risk because of a bridge that is less safe. I think according to any standards that we have seen the lower bridge, a 73 foot bridge is far safer and rates much better on a safety factor."

Plus officials believe timing for bridge funding now is critical and that a lack of consensus could jeopardize money that may become available. The final decision on bridge height lies with federal and state highway officials, but the jury's input is expected to have significant influence.   The police jury is expected to take up the issue at their meeting at 5:30 Thursday at the Calcasieu Government Building.