The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge in Louisiana is known as a hotbed of accidents. To reduce the frequency of accidents, Louisiana designated the bridge as a highway safety corridor, which means traffic offenses on the bridge attract higher fines.
If you have been injured on the Atchafalaya Bridge, recovering your compensation can be more complex because the accident may involve several parties. We answered some frequently asked questions so you know how to seek justice if you’ve been injured on the Atchafalaya Bridge.
What Is the History of the Atchafalaya Bridge?
The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, also known as the Louisiana Airborne Memorial Bridge, is on Interstate 10 (I10). The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge and I10 are located in south-central Louisiana and connect Baton Rouge and Lafayette. At an impressive 18.29 miles, the Atchafalaya Bridge is one of the longest bridges in the United States.
The bridge’s construction began in 1971 and was opened to the public in 1973. Atchafalaya Bridge comprises a pair of parallel bridges, one for westbound traffic and the other for eastbound traffic. The bridge spans the Atchafalaya Basin, one of the largest swamp areas in the United States.
Why Is the Atchafalaya Bridge Dangerous?
The Atchafalaya Bridge has had more than its fair share of accidents. Several factors make the Atchafalaya Bridge more dangerous and accident-prone:
The Atchafalaya Bridge is a twin bridge with four lanes — two for each direction. The bridges merge where the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel and the Atchafalaya River meet. At this point, the lanes narrow, and there’s no shoulder. This section of the bridge is dangerous, leading to more truck accidents.
The Atchafalaya Bridge is a vital section of I10, a major east-west highway. About 60,000 vehicles use the 18-mile Atchafalaya Bridge daily. High traffic density often leads to congestion, slows vehicle flow, and increases the probability of rear-end collisions.
Frequent Lane Closures for Repairs
The Atchafalaya Bridge is often closed for repairs on sections of the bridge. So, sometimes, the eastbound or westbound lane is closed, and all motorists have to use one lane—congestion and distracted driving place drivers at risk of serious harm.
High Truck Presence
Many big-wheelers and semi-trucks use the Atchafalaya Bridge and cause many of the bridges’ crashes. To help minimize accidents on the bridge, Louisiana reduced the speed limit to 55 mph for big-wheelers. Trucks must also stay in the right lane. However, some have alleged that many truckers don’t comply with the law.
What Has Been Done To Make the Atchafalaya Bridge Safer?
There have been several attempts to make the Atchafalaya Bridge safer.
Reducing the Speed Limit
In 1998, the state government first attempted to make the bridge safer. After a series of deadly crashes, the government lowered the speed limit on the Atchafalaya Bridge from 70 mph to 60 mph for all vehicles. However, big-wheelers continued to cause many of the crashes on the bridge. So, the government in 2003 further lowered the speed limit for trucks to 55 mph and mandated them to stay in the right lane.
Designating the Bridge as a Safety Corridor
Despite the reduction in the speed limit, accidents on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge and I10 were still common. In 2018, there were 245 accidents and 70 serious injuries. In 2021, that number had increased to 269 accidents, 89 injuries, and two deaths. This prompted further action.
Louisiana’s Act No. 426 designated the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge as a highway safety corridor. The implication is that traffic violations on the bridge attract higher fines. The aim is to curtail speeding and other forms of reckless driving on the bridge. Currently, the first offense results in a fine of $350. Second and additional offenses result in $1,000 fines.
Installing Cameras and Signs
To implement the designation of the bridge as a highway safety corridor, the law required the state to install special signage, including:
- Signs that state “Safety Corridor, Fines Doubled for Speeding and Other Violations” placed at the eastbound and westbound entrances of the bridge
- Eight sets of speed limit signs are equally spaced on the two parts of the bridge
- Six sets of “Trucks Right Lane Only” signs equally spaced on the two sides of the bridge
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) reported fewer crashes since the signage went up. The DOTD also installed speed monitoring signs that alert motorists when they are speeding.
The law also provides for the installation of cameras at the beginning and end of the bridge. Since the bridge is 18 miles long and the speed limit is 60 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks, it should take drivers at least 18 minutes to traverse the whole bridge.
If the cameras take photos of the same vehicle at different ends in less than 18 minutes, the driver must have been speeding. The DOTD will send the driver a ticket in the mail. The camera should be installed by the end of 2024.
What Causes Accidents on the Atchafalaya Bridge?
Truck accidents on the Atchafalaya Bridge are preventable, and They are often caused by drivers’ reckless behavior that puts them and other road users at risk. Here are the common causes of accidents on the bridge:
- Speeding: Some drivers don’t comply with the speed limit on the bridge, which is one major cause of crashes on the Atchafalaya Bridge. When a crash occurs, it can disrupt traffic flow for hours.
- Distracted driving: Drivers who eat, text and drive, and engage in any other behavior that takes their attention away from the road ahead often cause accidents on the bridge.
- Truck drivers flouting the rules: Some truck drivers do not stay in the right lane of the bridge as the law expects them to. Accidents between big-wheelers and passenger vehicles impact the occupants of passenger vehicles more because of the sheer size of the trucks. Many times, the victims suffer catastrophic injuries.
- Tailgating: Tailgating on the Atchafalaya Bridge is particularly dangerous because of the high traffic volume and narrow lanes. Real-end collisions can easily lead to a chain reaction affecting many vehicles.
What Can You Do To Stay Safe on the Atchafalaya Bridge?
Here are some things you can do to improve your safety while using the Atchafalaya Bridge and minimize the risk of car accidents:
- Comply with the speed limits.
- Be aware of other drivers and road conditions.
- Avoid distractions and focus on your driving.
- Follow other cars at a safe distance.
- Be more vigilant around trucks.
- Check the weather and avoid using the bridge in severe weather conditions.
The Advocate: Letters: Enforce the Speed Limits on Basin Bridge
American Press: Jim Beam Column: Too Many Atchafalaya Wrecks
Louisiana Radio Network: I-10 Atchafalaya Basin Bridge To Have Speed Cameras by End of 2024