BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) – State leaders are now ready to make changes to how interstate barriers are constructed in the future.
The idea was essentially sparked by the August flood and pressured by a lawsuit filed earlier this year.
While most people are grateful for a response, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks fears it will not actually help protect the very people who pushed the issue.
Pictures taken of I-12 at the height of the August flood between East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes are hard to ignore. Many of them showed the southbound lanes dry but the northbound lanes were swamped.
The images fueled a class action lawsuit in January with residents holding the state and DOTD responsible, alleging the wall added to the flooding in that area.
Now DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson says it is time for a change.
“You can’t deny that after a thousand year flood we have an obligation to act and that’s what we’re doing,” Wilson said.
The plan is to add small 2-inch tall by 12-inch wide openings at various points along Louisiana’s interstate barriers. The goal is to prevent water from pooling on one side of the roadway.
“We had time to make the decision and we wanted to do as much investigation as we can to make sure that we found one, something that was safe but two, something that might offer some benefit in extreme rain conditions,” said Wilson.
Wilson wants to be clear that the change is not an admission of guilt. He says there was no way to prepare for what happened in August.
“No interstate system could manage that,” he added.
The new plan will only apply to future projects, leaving the wall at the center of the lawsuit untouched. Wilson believes altering that barrier now would put too much strain on the state’s limited resources.
“It would require lane restrictions. It would require additional money and the money we’re spending on the lane restrictions is going to cost us a lot.”
Even if the openings were in place during the flood, he believes most homes would have still been affected.
“In reality, before the water hit the interstate many homes had already flooded,” said Wilson.
Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks disagrees, saying without the wall last year’s flooding would not have been as bad north of I-12.
“I don’t think it’s any comfort to the existing homeowners that’s where this wall is as it is right now,” Ricks said. “I don’t think they would have gotten near the amount of water and I do think there were a few homes along there that would not have flooded at all.”
While no one knows for sure if holes in the wall would have made a difference during the flood Wilson says even with the new plan if last year’s rain event repeats itself, Louisiana will still have problems.
“With that type of water you still will have flooding in this state and that’s something that we’re going to have to contend with,” said Wilson.
Dr. Wilson said they researched several other plans but they believe this one is the best for Louisiana.