State Rep. Gary Smith says he will ask Gov. Kathleen Blanco to help make Airline Highway safer by putting up barricades or taking other steps to help keep cars from plummeting into the murky canals on either side of the dangerous road.He already has requested that the state Department of Transportation reopen a study of Airline Highway between I-310 and LA 48 to determine how to make it safer.
And to ice the cake, he plans to take the issue to the state legislature, where he will propose a resolution requesting that transportation officials reconsider placing barriers along the deadly stretch of roadway to prevent drivers from plummeting into the murky canals on either side of the pavement.
“I grew up in St. Charles Parish and as long as I can remember cars went into that canal,” Smith said.
Smith wants to prevent the increased amount of wrecks and fatalities from occurring since a study of the highway was completed four years ago.
“The U.S. 61 Task Force Committee was formed to investigate fatal crashes that occurred in 2003,” Smith said.
“One of those families, the Washingtons, had four children who died on Airline Highway, he said.
“And this kind of tragic event is what we need to stop from happening again.”
Smith said he will speak to Gov. Blanco personally about the situation.
“The governor and I are friends and I know that she is a compassionate lady,” he said.
A petition started by the Washington family April 23 will be presented to Blanco once the family collects 21,000 signatures.
“I attended the funeral for the Washington children and I will personally deliver these signatures to the governor,” Smith said.
St. Charles Parish Councilman Richard Duhe agrees that highway safety officials need to reopen the study.
“I didn’t agree with the findings,” he told the Herald-Guide.
“It was an insult to the intelligence of every resident living in St. Charles Parish.”
DOTD’s final report stated “the roadway departure occurrences for … U.S. 61 do not meet the criteria for an abnormal roadway departure crash location” – meaning not enough people run off the road to warrant barriers.
The study’s authors acknowledged that barriers would be effective, saying:
“Installation of roadside barriers would in most cases keep vehicles from leaving the roadway and shoulders and running into the canal adjacent to U.S. 61.”
But the report goes on to give reasons why barriers aren’t advisable, saying:
– Barrier installation will provide less space for emergency parking and prohibit any recreational parking.
– The barriers will impede rescue efforts from the canals for vehicles that breach the guard-rail system.
– Depending on the manner in which the vehicle strikes the barrier, vehicle redirection into oncoming traffic, vaulting the barrier, or punching through the barrier could possibly occur.
– This installation will eliminate any recovery area past the shoulder and possibly result in a collisions with the barrier itself.”
The study committee included representatives from DOTD, the Louisiana State Police, the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office, and others.
Write to Shonna Riggs at firstname.lastname@example.org