A crucial part of recovery from Harvey involves making sure southwest Louisiana’s roads and bridges are safe for travel.
“We’ve got closures because of washouts on our system, and bridges that -- after any event like this -- we have to inspect,” says DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson.
But prior to the storm, Dr. Wilson spoke with me at length about his concerns over the increasing need for bridge closures.
“Shift happens when that happens: shift – S-H-I-F-T!” he said, chuckling over the need to clarify that word.
He quickly became serious, as he elaborated on what he meant by “shift”.
“The vast number of bridges that scare me the most are not those on the interstate, but the farm-to-market bridges. If those bridges start to go out on a regular basis – where school buses travel; where trucks that move timber and cotton and soybeans and crawfish and rice and all that other stuff that supports our economy -- products that are helping families in rural Louisiana survive – it can’t get to the port. If it can’t get to the port, it can’t get to the global market. If it doesn’t get to the global market, there’s no money to be made.”
Wilson gave a specific example, based on a closure earlier this year.
“The bridge that we closed at the Intracoastal Canal on LA-1 – you could not get a truck carrying a full load of beer to get to Walmart, because it was overweight. You could not get a garbage truck over that bridge, if it was loaded with garbage,” he said.
“It was an hour-and-a-half detour to get to the dump where you’re going to dispose of trash. And that has an impact downstream because of the cost of fuel and because of the time that it takes you to make that detoured route -- and then that extra hour-and-a-half to come back. So you lost a third of your day just in transit.”
And that accumulates quickly.
“You’re adding hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours to the work environment of freight and mobility.”
Bottom line? Wilson says Louisiana needs more investment in its infrastructure if its economy is going to survive, much less thrive.