The transportation infrastructure in St. Charles Parish is in questionable shape when it comes to handling up to three times more freight traffic that is expected to be shipped through the area after the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed.
The expansion, which is expected to be completed in early 2015, is anticipated to have a positive economic impact in St. Charles Parish, however, it is unclear at this point if the local transportation infrastructure will be in place to handle the increased freight traffic.
Motorists on both the east and west banks already have issues on ground level roads when trains bring traffic to a standstill. In addition, during certain parts of the day I-10, I-310, Highway 90 and Airline Highway all experience delays due to heavy traffic.
When more trucks are shipping cargo out of the Port of South Louisiana and more train cars are on local tracks, those issues are anticipated to get worse.
Sen. Gary Smith recently traveled to the Panama Canal as part of a group of legislators from the Southern Legislative Conference to examine the canal and hear more about its potential economic impact on southeast Louisiana.
“The expansion is going to triple the capacity of what can come through the canal,” he said. “Opening the canal to these larger ships will open us up to the Asia and China market. Right now these ships can’t get off on the canal and they are having to stop off at Long Beach and on the West Coast.”
Smith, who is on the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works, said there will be a noticeable increase in traffic in the area, but the impacts should be gradual and felt over a number of years.
“We are going to continue to work to make sure we have the funds to have the proper resources and facilities in place. We are going to continue working on some of our roads and infrastructure,” he said.
He said the legislature is already looking at building highway access directly to the Port of South Louisiana.
“We’re working to try and get a spur off the interstate there in Reserve so in the future maybe we can have traffic go right to the interstate in the port,” he said.
In addition, Smith said the transportation committee has been monitoring the railways as they make improvements in anticipation of the increased cargo loads.
For potential railway overpasses and other roadway improvements, Smith said he is looking towards funding connected to the I-49 corridor project and that he hopes that construction can catch up with that currently occurring in the canal.
“I think we are doing the things right now we need to do to be prepared for the beginning. I’m sure over time there will be adaptations getting made,” he said.
Smith said there may be growing pains as the shipping industry expands in the river parishes, but it will be worth it in the long run.
“The downside of progress and industry in our area is that we have some issues we have to work with. We will have to continue to work with the railroads to work with us in the best possible manner and not tie up access,” he said.