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New $30M River Bridge Needed to Handle Rapid Growth in La.'s St. Tammany Parish

Tue July 11, 2023 - Southeast Edition
New Orleans Times-Picayune

When a major road project was completed in 2019 on U.S. Highway 190 between Interstate 12 and Covington, La., the state's highway department said it would usher in an era of improved traffic flow in car-centric St. Tammany Parish.

And it did — right up to the spot where three lanes of northbound U.S. 190 traffic are jarringly funneled into a single lane on the old bridge over the Bogue Falaya River. That's where the millions of dollars spent on St. Tammany's traffic future slam ungracefully into its present: A two-lane, 1940s-era bridge that has been the undoing of many a motorist's dream of an easy commute home from work.

"It's been an issue for years," Parish Council member David Fitzgerald told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. At times, he said, the congestion "is almost impenetrable."

Signs of Hope

But now frustrated motorists can see tangible signs that an improvement promised many years ago will indeed become a reality. Crews have started work on a $30 million bridge replacement, and signs have been erected advising U.S. 190 motorists to prepare for possible delays due to the construction.

According to officials with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), the plan is to replace the current bridge with two new spans, one northbound and one southbound. Each is to have two 12-ft.-wide traffic lanes, as well as shoulders on each side.

Completion of the Bogue Falaya River bridge is expected in 2025, DOTD told the New Orleans news source.

The current structure, east of downtown Covington, is very much a vestige of St. Tammany Parish's rural days. It dates from just after World War II, when U.S. 190 was little more than a country road, and years before the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and nearby I-12 opened central and western St. Tammany to the massive residential and commercial development that would come to define the following decades.

Vehicles Outnumber People in St. Tammany

St. Tammany's population grew 13 percent between 2010 and 2020 — figures from the state Office of Motor Vehicles show there are about 270,000 residents today, and almost 330,000 registered vehicles — and the public infrastructure, particularly roadways, continues to play catchup.

Hardly a country road any longer, U.S. 190 near the Bogue Falaya bridge carries 70,000 vehicles on the average day. Many St. Tammany drivers have learned to cope by adjusting their commutes around the heaviest congestion cycles.

Mike Martens of Covington said he leaves home earlier each morning to avoid the snarls at the Bogue Falaya bridge. But when returning home later in day, the traffic backups are sometimes unavoidable.

"It took me 30 minutes to get from Walmart to the bridge where they're doing the construction," he said while speaking with the Times-Picayune on a recent afternoon, fresh from the drive home.

Expanding U.S. 190 Also Key Part of Effort

The new bridge is a key component of a larger, five-phase plan that will eventually widen U.S. 190 between the Bogue Falaya bridge and Louisiana State Road 25, adding roundabouts at several spots.

"This is the first part of restructuring that entire area," DOTD spokesperson Daniel Gitlin said.

He added that the work has been broken into sections because it is easier to secure funding that way, rather than wait to bank the money for all five phases. He noted that the total amount is "a couple hundred million dollars."

While replacing the bridge is vitally important to improving traffic flow, so is widening U.S. 190 north of it, Gitlin said.

That stretch of the highway, also known as Collins Boulevard, is packed with businesses, and it funnels a lot of traffic to the growing residential areas on the north side of Covington, the New Orleans newspaper reported.

"It does get really backed up by the business, and it's hard to get in and out," explained Katie Hollie, a bartender at the Best Little Wherehouse Bar & Grill, located along the boulevard.

Colin Patrick, co-owner of the nearby Pat's Seafood Market and Cajun Deli, agreed that congestion is a big problem. He and other area businesspeople will be carefully watching the road project as it progresses.

"We're somewhat worried about the construction," Patrick said, adding with a hopeful note: "[But] I believe it'll be good for business after it's done."

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