New bridge location not expected for at least four years, though DOTD optimistic it can achieve faster pace

DOTD makes what some may call questionable decision about new bridge in Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Consultants working to help the state build a new bridge may not select a location for Baton Rouge’s third crossing for another four years, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation (DOTD).

DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson says the state is aiming to work at a faster pace, but acknowledged that, “on paper,” the decision may not come for 48 months.

The new details on the state’s timeline came during Monday’s (Jan. 27) Capital Area Road and Bridge District meeting, where elected officials laid out the next steps required to place the bridge.

The state has selected a consulting firm that will help narrow down three potential bridge locations, though the state’s choice has raised some eyebrows. The state selected Atlas Technical Consultants, even though its application for the job was graded below two other firms'.

Atlas is owned, in part, by Baton Rouge businessman, Jim Bernhard, who has publicly offered to front money for a new bridge and has been heavily involved in brainstorming potential traffic solutions. Wilson says Bernhard’s involvement had nothing to do with Atlas’ selection.

“It was all within the confines of the law and designed to specifically deliver this project as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said.

It’s not unheard of for the state to select second or third-place applicants to conduct its work.

In addition, one of the engineering firms that would be subcontracted to work on the bridge with Atlas is under intense scrutiny for its role in the design of a Florida bridge that collapsed and killed eight people in 2019. That FIGG engineering group would play a different, more hands-off role in Baton Rouge, however.

One of the losing firms has appealed DOTD’s decision, and Wilson says he will make a final choice in a matter of days. The contract is worth around $2.5 million and would be executed over two years. The winner could also be selected to carry out the final planning phase where a single location would be identified, also worth $2.5 million to be executed in two years.

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