Hike in St. John traffic accidents brings warning from area officials

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2005



LAPLACE – St. John Sheriff’s Lt. Troy Cassioppi has seen many swings in parish traffic during his 15 years on the local force.

But he says there has been nothing like the run of heavy traffic in St. John over the past two months.

His response to it all is one word of warning: “PATIENCE!”

Even with some of the heavy traffic through St. John heading to New Orleans letting up slightly in recent weeks, the head of the traffic division with the St. John Sheriff’s Office said there will be much of the same for a long time to come.

“We just keep trying to tell people on the roads, please be patient,” he said. “That is the only solution to what we are experiencing.”

The heavy traffic has led to a huge increase in accidents here.

Traffic accidents in September 2004 were a total of 107, but that number rose to 190 in September 2005.

October has proven to be even worse with 275 accidents in 2005, compared to only 96 in October 2004.

“The congestion is unbelievable all over the place,” Cassioppi said. “The worst time is from 3 to 6, as well as heavy traffic in the morning and at lunch. We just want people to really think about being more patient.”

The Sheriff’s Office is also warning drivers that they have returned to full patrols to look for speeders, DWI infractions and seat belt violations. There are two grants the department currently has which is giving them funds to pay overtime patrols, one coming from the feds and one coming from the district attorney’s office.

“We are having zero tolerance,” Cassioppi said, showing a handful of tickets just from the day before. “We have to be tough on people since we are trying to control all this traffic.”

The biggest problem, according to Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Maj. Michael Tregre, is when the traffic is bumper to bumper, and people wave others through intersections when they don’t really have the right-of-way to turn.

“We had much fewer accidents when we had the four-way stop signs up before the electric came back on,” Tregre noted. “But now you have people waving others through congested intersections, and people just start going without seeing someone coming down a right turn lane.”

Cassioppi agreed that the majority of accidents are “right angle crashes.”

He also said that even though St. John reportedly has 15,000 additional people here that have been displaced from the storm, he still sees a large rush of traffic each morning and night of people still going back and forth to their homes in New Orleans from other areas.

“As soon as Jefferson Parish started letting people come back to check their homes, it all started,” Tregre related. “And even though it’s a little better now, we still have that heavy rush, which is added to the many new people living here with more vehicles. And even now most everyone seems to have learned the back roads, so that doesn’t help a lot either.”

Cassioppi said there has only been one case of “road rage,” which occurred weeks ago when a man actually pulled a gun due to the heavy traffic.

“We made a quick arrest and fortunately haven’t had anything like that since,” he said. “But people need to realize this will be normal for a while, and even increase a little since we are now coming into holiday time. We just want people to have patience when they get on the roads.”

Tregre also said that there is a big crackdown on people parking illegally in handicap zones, as well as fire lanes.

“The ticket for parking illegally in a handicap zone is $487, so I hope people think about that before trying it,” he said. “And we are writing tickets for everything from speeding to seat belts. There are no excuses anymore.”