BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - Although a tanker collision closed down the Sunshine Bridge for a few hours Sunday afternoon (June 16), Louisiana traffic officials said the bridge did not sustain structural damage -- a relief for commuters who were unable to use the bridge for months late last year.
Drivers expressed frustration while Louisiana State Police diverted bridge traffic, forcing them to go the long way around. However, Rodney Mallet, spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Development, said everything worked the way it should have, preventing any major damage.
Owen Smith of Donaldsonville, Chuck Chesteen and Curtis Carter were only three of the travelers impacted by the closure. And while the bridge was only shut down for a few hours, all three drivers said they would be forced to travel that far -- or more -- just to get back on track.
“You have to go down to Gramercy and cross the bridge,” Carter said.
“That’s an extra two or three hours,” Smith said.
Thankfully, the bridge opened before the end of the day, but the closure was all too reminiscent of another recent of a recent extended closure. For months, the Sunshine Bridge was shut down while crews worked to repair it after a barge carrying a crane collided with the substructure, causing significant damage.
During that time, Smith said even getting to school was a headache.
“I was calling all my friends, because I have football workouts in the morning, and so we’re going to have to hitch a ride with coach or something to go all the way around, and some of them couldn’t even make it,” he said.
But Mallet said the latest bridge shutdown came under much different circumstance than the last closure.
“There’s a big difference,” Mallet said. “Because what happened then, was a crane that was over height hit the bridge and did damage to the substructure.”
According to Mallet, boat collisions aren’t that uncommon, which is why a fender system is in place, which Mallet likened to a guardrail to protect piers.
“We do have bridges throughout the state, across our waterways, and they do get hit from time to time, but they’re built to withstand most of those kind of collisions,” Mallet said. “They also have that fender system, which is put in place to prevent any kind of catastrophic damage when there’s a collision.”
Even so, some drivers believe there should be further safeguards to prevent complete closures of the Sunshine altogether.
“Do something to try to keep barges barges and stuff from hitting it. I don’t know what the solution is but there has to be something,” Chesteen said.
The DOTD said no one was injured in the collision, but that an exact cause was not yet known.