Veterans Bridge transformation
Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008
By ROBIN SHANNON
WALLACE – It took years of planning amid a multitude of delays and financial shortfalls, but $15.2 million later, the “Bridge to Nowhere” is now the bridge to somewhere.
Gov. Bobby Jindal joined State Sen. Jody Amedee, D-Gonzales, State Reps. Nickie Monica, R-LaPlace, and Elton Aubert, D-Vacherie, and a host of other state and parish government officials Tuesday to cut the ribbon on the La. 3213 extension, which will connect the Veterans Bridge with La. 3127.
The 4.56-mile extension, which includes two 12-foot lanes and turning lanes at La. 3127, puts an end to years of frustration for scores of St. John and St. James Parish citizens living in the region.
“People in the whole River Parish region now have a straighter route to access the bridge,” said Mark Lambert, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. “It’s been a long wait for the people that live here.”
The Veterans Bridge earned its unflattering nickname after its completion in 1995. Traffic crossing the bridge to the West Bank had to circle around to exit on River Road. The extension allows motorists to continue traveling forward to La. 3127, which connects to Boutte and Donaldsonville and also provides the region with another valuable evacuation route to Interstate 10.
In his short speech before the ribbon cutting, Jindal said the extension, which bolsters the infrastructure of the area, would not only act as an evacuation route but also help to nurture economic development for both St. John and St. James Parishes. He said the new road would play a key role in the state’s discussions with American steel producer Nucor Corp., which is seriously considering putting a steel plant in Convent, La.
“This is an important corridor for the state of Louisiana,” Jindal said to the crowd of residents and government leaders. “It opens up many new opportunities for growth.”
Monica shared in the governor’s sentiments and spoke about the future of the virtually undeveloped part of the parish.
“What excites me is the economic development this brings about,” Monica said. “One day you will see businesses running all along this road. This is probably the most important 4.6 miles in the parish.”
Lambert said plans for the extension had been in the works since Ocotber of 2006, but funding shortfalls put the project on the backburner since that time. Other delays, including placement of electrical poles and construction of a railroad crossing, further hindered the extension. Lambert said the extension is just phase one of a three-phase project that will end up costing $28 million.
“In future phases, we will see an overpass instead of a railroad crossing, as well as the addition of two more lanes,” said Lambert. “As of now there is no timetable for construction of future phases since we don’t have the funding.”
Throughout the ceremony, motorists exiting the bridge on the West Bank showed their appreciation for the new road with celebratory honks and cheers. One driver shouted “Thank God” as he passed by in his SUV, which produced a round of laughter from all in attendance.