Road improvements pause as region braces for Rita

| Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Just as road conditions began to improve and officials toyed with the idea of repopulating New Orleans, the threat of Hurricane Rita stymied road improvements in the Gulf States.

Although road conditions throughout the Gulf States are improving, Mayor Ray Nagin, citing a threat from fast-approaching Rita, put re-entry into New Orleans on hold.

Nagin had earlier made the decision to allow the public to begin entering the city this past weekend, which was met with controversy from federal, state and local officials who questioned the safety of such a move.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, the only road that remains closed is Alabama Highway 44 east of U.S. 78, which was shut down due to a landslide. However, a number of roads in Mobile, Sumter, Choctaw, Marengo, Tuscaloosa, Washington, Clarke, Baldwin and Marion counties remain under advisories as debris cleanup and roadway repair continues.

In southern Mississippi, road conditions have improved dramatically. With the exception of U.S. 90, which runs through the state from Alabama to Louisiana, all roadways are open in the state. However, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety is still urging caution as hurricane cleanup carries on throughout the area.

Repairs on two of the area's roadways most damaged by the storm are also under way. On Sept. 12, work began on the Interstate 10 Twinspan Bridge in New Orleans, which was severely damaged in the storm and subsequent flooding.

"Restoring this critical eastward link for New Orleans will speed recovery of the city and the entire Gulf region," U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a press release. "Every day we're getting road work started to reconnect the region and help people rebuild."

According to the press release, the work was contracted to New Orleans-based Boh Bros. Construction Co. Under the contract, the bridges must be finished within 45 days. There is a $50,000-per-day incentive to finish the work ahead of schedule.

At least 100 miles of U.S. 90 in Louisiana were "basically wiped out," Mineta told The Associated Press. A temporary roadway will be completed within 90 days while the permanent highway is reconstructed, the Department of Transportation press release said.

In an interview with The AP on Sept. 4, Mineta said repairs to Interstate 10 and U.S. 90 alone would cost at least $1.5 billion.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry announced that the Twinspan Bridge over Lake Pontchartrain will be repaired and functional within 45 days, thanks to more than $30 million in emergency repair funding, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported Sept. 12.

The following is the complete list of roadways that remain closed or are set up with checkpoints throughout Louisiana as of Wednesday morning, Sept. 21:

  • Interstate 10 west at Oak Harbor exit;
  • Interstate 10 Twinspan Bridge;
  • Interstate 10/Interstate 610 (checkpoint at Interstate 10/Carrollton exit)
  • Detour: Interstate 10 to Louisiana Highway 11 to Interstate 10 west to Interstate 510 southbound to Paris Road;
  • U.S. 90 at Orleans Parish line (checkpoint set up);
  • U.S. 61 south at Orleans/Jefferson Parish line (checkpoint set up);
  • Louisiana Highway 1 at Port Fourchon to Grand Island;
  • Crescent City Connection open for emergency vehicles only;
  • River Road at the Orleans Parish line (checkpoint set up);
  • Paris Road at Judge Perez; and
  • Paris Road to Murphy Oil Refinery (hazardous material spill).

Because of the nature of a natural disaster, road conditions and closings are prone to change at a moment's notice. For an up-to-date list of closings in specific areas, visit the following states' Web sites for more information:

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