Causeway police are cracking down on speeders, careless drivers and other offenders on the 24-mile bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain in the wake of two recent fatal accidents in which vehicles went off the bridge and into the water.
“Enforcement has really been ratcheted up,” bridge General Manager Carlton Dufrechou told NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune Wednesday.
Over a four-day period during Thanksgiving week, officers wrote 25 percent more tickets than normal. Dufrechou says two-thirds were for speeding, with most motorists driving from the high 60s to 75 mph on the bridge, which has a 65 mph limit.
The fastest driver cited was traveling 87 mph, he said.
There were seven DWI cases during that period.
Dufrechou would not say how many tickets were issued during the period, but said officers normally write about 1,000 citations per month. He declined to provide specifics about the methods of stepped-up enforcement but said, “Officers are all over the bridge.”
Dufrechou suggested that motorists not count on a few miles-per-hour cushion between the 65 mph limit and the point at which police will pull them over. Bridge commuters often speak of such a cushion, although officials say there is no such thing.
“I’ve told our (bridge) commissioners to go 65. I’ve also told my wife to go 65,” Dufrechou said.
The enhanced enforcement follows three accidents this year, including two last month, in which vehicles plunged off the southbound span. Two of the accidents were fatal.
The latest of those incidents occurred Nov. 23, claiming the life of David Zapot, 38, of Lacombe. He lost control of his SUV on the downslope of the drawbridge hump about eight miles from the north shore before hitting the bridge railing, overturning and plunging into the lake, authorities said.
On Nov. 3, a man died after a garbage truck plowed into a work crew on the bridge, sending a construction vehicle and its driver into the lake about 4 miles from the north shore.
On May 31, the driver of a pickup was rescued from the lake after he lost control of the vehicle and it went over the side about 2 miles from the south shore.
Thirteen vehicles have gone over the side of the southbound bridge since 1994, according to bridge statistics. One vehicle plunged off the northbound span, which has higher retaining walls, during that period. Eleven people have died in the accidents.
Bridge officials contracted with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to come up with designs to improve the bridge’s retaining walls. The institute is expected to make a recommendation by the end of the year. The cost to improve the walls on both spans is roughly estimated at $50 million.
Efforts to obtain a federal grant for the project were unsuccessful, and a toll increase may be necessary to pay for the improvements, bridge officials have said.
Reducing the bridge’s speed limit is also an option to improve safety, Dufrechou has said.
“We’ve become tied to (cellphones),” Dufrechou said. “When you get on the bridge you have to get your heads away from these things and pay attention only to driving.”
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