The Judge Perez
Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge
The Judge Perez/Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge are critical transportation links for residents, businesses and industries in Westbank Plaquemines Parish.
Replacing the existing structures will make both daily commutes and hurricane evacuations easier, faster and more reliable.
It will help encourage economic growth in the area by providing the area’s businesses and industries with a more efficient transportation system.
A new bridge is also expected be far less expensive to operate and maintain than the existing Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge.
Project Update: July 2014
Since the last project update, the Plaquemines Parish Government, the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (RPC) and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LDOTD) elected to have the project team consider the recently identified alternatives at the same level as previously identified alternatives. These alternatives included adding a fixed span with 73 feet of vertical clearance and investigating a slightly steeper grade on all alternatives. Each of these new alternatives was suggested during project advisory committee meetings in order to reduce costs and community impacts while still providing a quality service to maritime and vehicular traffic. A PowerPoint presentation from the last advisory committee meeting featuring all alternatives considered to this point can be found here [link to pdf of last PAC presentation]. The project team continues to complete various environmental analyses of the project area including an archeological summary and noise and vibration analysis.”
The purpose of Stage 1 – Environmental Assessment (EA) is to develop recommendations for a replacement bridge for the Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge. While still being finalized, the project’s draft goals are to:
• Improve access for the community by reducing or eliminating costs and delays associated with unpredictable breakdowns, as well as ongoing operations and maintenance needs;
• Improve navigation on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) by reducing delays on the waterway;
• Support opportunities for industrial and economic growth;
• Comply with fiscal restraints; and
• Reduce operations and maintenance costs.
The EA will carefully examine the impacts of building a new bridge (and, if necessary, new roads to connect to the bridge) on nearby buildings, businesses homes and the natural environment. For more information about Environmental Assessments, click here.
The exact type of bridge is yet to be determined. The Stage 0 Feasibility Study identified three alternatives, all of which included four travel lanes and a bicycle lane. See the Project Information page for more information on those alternatives.
The project will help address several challenges, including access, safety and efficiency. Needs to be addressed include:
• Bridge openings for marine traffic - The Belle Chasse Bridge opens for marine traffic on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway an average of ten times daily, for roughly seven to ten minutes at a time. This results in extensive traffic delays along Louisiana Highway 23 between Woodland Highway and Engineers Road. Although the bridge is raised often, the need to raise and lower the bridge also creates maritime traffic delays on the GIWW.
• Operation and maintenance costs - Both the bridge and the tunnel are showing their age. The Belle Chase Tunnel was constructed in 1956, and the Judge Perez Bridge in 1968. Both are subject to frequent, costly and unpredictable operational breakdowns for repair and maintenance.
- In 2006, the Bridge remained open for more than 13 hours due to operations, maintenance and repairs.
- In 2007, it was open for more than 28 hours for reasons unrelated to marine traffic.
- At times, maintenance or breakdowns cause the closure of either the bridge or the tunnel, requiring two-way traffic to detour to the other structure and resulting in extensive travel delays.
These closures are costly for businesses, residents and the Louisiana Department of Transportation (LA DOTD) alike. Their unpredictable nature results in a lack of user confidence and creates challenges for
LA DOTD in allocating scarce financial resources.
• Hurricane evacuations - Louisiana Highway 23 is the primary hurricane evacuation route for Westbank of Plaquemines Parish. Along with the need to move vehicles, hurricane evacuations also create the need to move maritime traffic quickly and efficiently.
• National security - The Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge provide a critical connection to the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, which currently has more than 9,500 employees and is in the process of investing $480 million in various base improvements.
Because of the importance of this transportation link, the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (NORPC) has included the Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge replacement as part of their 10-year plan for maintenance, capacity and preservation projects. LA DOTD has identified the project as a Priority A Megaproject in the financially constrained State Transportation Plan.