Airline Highway traffic still hot topic in St. Charles

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008


Staff Reporter

LULING – “I think they are going to be challenged to get off their butts and do something,” Sandra Washington of St. Rose said Tuesday night after the first meeting of a safety task force that was reconvened to improve safety on Airline Highway.

For Washington, protecting motorists from the canal along Airline has been a passion since her four children were killed in a 2003 accident that ended with their vehicle in the canal.

The task force was first brought together in a 2004 response to the Washington family accident.

State Rep. Gary Smith passed a legislative resolution that brought together the Louisiana Department of Transportation (LDOT) with the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office to develop a plan to improve safety on the highway. The task force was able to eliminate 10 dangerous median crossings, repaint lane lines and add turn lanes as well as other safety features to the highway.

The improvements cost nearly $1 million, according to Sheriff Greg Champagne. The results were almost half as many fatal accidents, despite a higher number of accidents in 2006 caused by increased usage of the highway due to Hurricane Katrina.

Despite the improvements residents still expressed concern. Smith passed another resolution to bring the task force back in 2008.

LDOT presented statistics representing improvement on the highway since 2004. They also showed a 70’s era video showing tests of cars running into guardrails at 62 miles-per-hour.

State Police Troop B Commander Captain Ken Curlee reiterated the findings of the 2004 task force that guard rails have the potential to cause more accidents by putting cars into the paths of others which would cause “secondary accidents.”

“What happens in many situations is secondary crashes cause fatalities,” said Curlee.

After the presentation, community members expressed their feelings.

Sal DiGiralamo of the Norco Civic Association suggested filling in the canal. DiGiralamo said the canal was originally called a borrow pit and the only reason it was dug was to use the dirt to elevate Airline.

Ronald St. Pierre cited Shell in Norco as a precedent where the canal has been filled in.

Keith Keller, a friend of the Washington family, expressed concern that later model cars are much different than those in the LTOD video and that the results may be different now.

Allen Washington, husband of Sandra, said he has noticed barriers have increased on I-10 since and other roadways since 2003, but Airline still does not have any.

Lisa Williams, said she was recently in an accident on Airline in 2001 caused by a truck using one of the median crossings and that a month later the father of a friend of hers was killed in the same spot.

“I feel there is a lot of shame on behalf of the government for years of study and no action,” said Williams.

“I’ve pulled a lot of bodies out of the canal,” said chief of the St. Rose Fire Department Larry Cochran. “I have a big new rescue truck that I can’t do nothing with because they are under the water…something has to be done.”

A number of residents expressed concern that the speed limit was still 55 miles-per-hour.

Champagne said the groups concerns and suggestions would be addressed in later meeting that is yet to be announced.

“No matter what we do, someone is likely to die the next week,” said Champagne.