Monday, July 15, 2024

Louisiana officials working on route for new Mississippi River bridge

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is preparing for environmental assessments on three alternatives for the Mississippi River Bridge, with a decision on the preferred route expected next summer.

Project managers with Atlas Technical Consultants told the Capital Area Road and Bridge District on Monday officials have conducted preliminary road line and grade work, bridge modeling, Lidar and aerial photography, and traffic data collection on proposed locations for the new Mississippi River Bridge in recent months.

They’re now moving to a second phase involving topographic surveys, bathymetric surveys in the river, a utility analysis, an intermediate toll analysis, and geotechnical water drainage analysis and continued road and bridge modeling.

“Not all of those will be completed by the end of this calendar year, but a few of them will be,” said Kara Moree, project manager with Atlas. “A lot of moving parts and pieces … and as soon as all of that wraps up, we will go straight into the (National Environmental Policy Act)” process.

“That’s several months from now,” she said.

The consultants said they expect to understand in the coming weeks whether federal regulators will require an environmental assessment of the three alternatives or an environmental impact statement. DOTD Secretary Eric Kalivoda explained the latter requires significantly more review than the former, and the department is hopeful an environmental assessment will satisfy.

“We’re going to have that conversation with them relatively soon so that we can get geared up to do that,” Moree said.

Officials have not discovered any significant environmental impacts with the three proposed routes, but the NEPA process will further vet that aspect, she said.

“The only unknowns to us at this point is the cultural resource survey and actually doing the wetland delineations … and a phase one environmental site assessment,” Moree said. “If we do find a real showstopper on one of them, we do have two others.”

Once the NEPA process begins, the state will have one year to complete the work. Officials hope to start the environmental analysis in the next six to nine months, with anticipated completion by 2025.

Atlas consultants said they hope to narrow down the preferred route for the bridge by next August. They expect to update cost estimates for the three routes, currently at about $1.5 billion, in the NEPA phase.

Another round of public comment will follow the environmental assessment with the preferred alternative, they said.

“We feel like we’ve done everything that we can possibly do to set us up to have a very smooth NEPA document,” Moree said.

As the next phase moves forward, the Capital Area Road and Bridge District is considering contracting with a communications firm to highlight the need for a new bridge and update the public and new lawmakers on the project.

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