LAKE CHARLES, La. (KLFY) – The I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles opened in 1952.
The DOTD says 74,100 vehicles cross the bridge every day. Others put that number closer to 90,000.
The bridge is consistently featured in online articles as one of the most dangerous bridges in the country.
Drivers have mixed feelings about how safe it is.
“It’s not in good shape. It really needs to be updated,” said Liz Murray of Kerrville, Texas. “I never feel safe driving over it.”
“It’s really sound to me. There’s no problem. I never feel any shaking,” said Gus Soileau of Jennings, La. “The only shaking I feel is all them 18-wheelers that’s passing around, you know.”
One reason the bridge gets such bad press is because of the National Bridge Inventory – which is a Federal Highway Administration database.
The most recent inspection from 2017 said the bridge was in poor condition. The deck, superstructure and substructure were given ratings of three. Anything under four is considered “structurally deficient.”
The bridge inspections are done by the DOTD and the results are then sent to the federal government.
A spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration said even though the bridge is considered “structurally deficient” that is just an engineering term. He said that has nothing to do with whether the bridge is safe or not.
“I drive over it, weekly, with my family and I don’t have any issues driving over it with my wife and my eight-month-old son,” said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter.
Hunter said he’s not qualified to speak to the safety of the bridge but says a new bridge is needed.
“This is very much on the mind of local people,” Hunter said. “I think there’s a lot frustration because we’ve been talking about this bridge for 20 years.”
George Swift is President and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance which oversees economic development for five parishes.
“When you look from I-10 from California to Florida, unfortunately this I-10 bridge is probably a weak link,” Swift said.
He said the bridge is unsafe because of its steep incline, and lack of turnoff lanes and lights.
“If you have a flat tire or your vehicle stalls you’re going to have a serious problem and I’ve had that happen to me before and it’s not a very pleasant experience,” Swift said.
The DOTD wants to build a new bridge just north of the existing bridge. A preliminary design could be ready by this fall.
DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said if the current bridge wasn’t safe it would be closed down immediately like other bridges have been.
“I will tell you the spent over $20 million restoring that bridge. We’ll be the first to tell you we need to rebuild that bridge as well,” Wilson said.
He also says that money to pay for a new bridge just isn’t there.
“We think that project should be a toll bridge. It’s one of the few bridges in our state that we have to reconstruct on the interstate and it’s eligible to be tolled,” Wilson said.
But even with tolls, Wilson said it wouldn’t be enough.
Mayor Hunter said he thinks a new bridge is closer to becoming reality than it’s ever been. He agrees – coming up with the cash to pay for a bridge that could cost between $700 million and $1 billion – is a problem.
“We’re still very frustrated because we haven’t seen the dollars materialize on a federal or state level for this bridge,” Hunter said.
The economic development alliance has a task force looking at ways to raise money for the bridge. Swift said tolls, property taxes and gas taxes are all being studied.
“We think this is our top infrastructure priority because if something were to happen to that bridge it would shut down the economy, not only Louisiana, but of the nation, it would be greatly impacted,” Swift said.
The DOTD said the current bridge would remain open to traffic while the new bridge is being built.
Officials are concerned about the president’s infrastructure plan. The federal government currently pays for 80 percent of these types of projects. They’re hearing the feds could cut their contribution back to 20 percent – meaning state and local governments would have to come up with the rest.