The Belle Chasse Tunnel and
the Judge Perez Bridge

The Belle Chasse Tunnel and the Judge Perez 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 to be far less expensive to operate and maintain than the existing Belle Chasse Tunnel and Judge Perez Bridge.

 

Project Update: May 15, 2016

WHAT’S NEW:

  • New alternatives would establish a fixed bridge at 73 feet of vertical clearance above mean high tide, as an option to the high-rise fixed bridge (with 100 feet of vertical clearance) and movable bridge options.
  • Since that time, the review of alternatives resulted in the elimination of the movable bridge, 100 foot high-rise and 6% grade bridge options from further consideration. This comes as a result of defining the alternative with input from the community, stakeholders and maritime interests in the area.
  • A preservation alternative added to the project identified ways to improve the existing bridge and tunnel. Evaluation of each considers engineering feasibility, preservation of historic integrity of the bridge and tunnel and their relative success in meeting the needs of the project.
  • The planning and environmental analysis will move ahead using the 73 foot fixed span as the recommended replacement for the Judge Perez Bridge/ Belle Chasse Tunnel crossing the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW).

Comments received from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) directed the project team to look at improving traffic operations along Belle Chasse Highway (LA 23) as part of an additional statement of need for the project. In order to complete the due diligence, the review of alternatives expanded to include three additional 6-lane bridge alternatives as well as the 4-lane bridge alternative.

The public will have the opportunity to review the outcome of these analyses at the upcoming public information meeting for the project.

 

Project Purpose

The purpose of Stage 1 – Environmental Assessment (EA) is to develop recommendations for a replacement bridge for the Belle Chasse Tunnel and Judge Perez Bridge.  The project’s purpose is:

  Improve access to Plaquemines Parish for daily and evacuation traffic with a reliable and efficient GIWW crossing

  Improve GIWW navigation by reducing marine vessel delay;

Support opportunities for industrial growth;

  Comply with fiscal constraint objectives; and

Improve efficiency with lower Operations and Maintenance (O&M) costs.

The EA will carefully examine the impacts of building a new bridge (and new roads to connect to the bridge) on nearby buildings, businesses homes and the natural environment.  For more information about Environmental Assessments, click here.

Project Need

The project need is:

Traffic stoppage on LA 23 as a result of 10 regular daily openings at 10 minutes each  – Review of DOTD Bridge Tender reports from January 2012 to December 2014 find the Judge Perez Bridge opens for marine traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway an average of seven times daily, for roughly seven to ten minutes at a time. This results in extensive traffic delays along Belle Chasse Highway (LA 23) between Woodland Highway and Engineers Road. The wait time while raising and lowering the bridge also contributes to maritime traffic delays on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Eliminate unscheduled maintenance and repair closures for both bridge and tunnel - - 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 up (closed to vehicular traffic) for more than 13 hours due to operations, maintenance and repairs.

-  In 2007, it was up 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 traffic to detour to the other structure and resulting in two-way, two-lane traffic and extensive travel delays.

These closures are costly for businesses, residents and the DOTD alike.  Their unpredictable nature results in a lack of user confidence and creates challenges for DOTD in allocating scarce financial resources.

Improve vehicular and vessel hurricane evacuation efficiency and reliability - Belle Chasse Highway (LA 23) is the primary hurricane evacuation route for the Westbank of Plaquemines Parish.   Along with the need to move vehicles, hurricane evacuations also create the need to move maritime traffic quickly and efficiently.

Improve daily traffic operations – Residents of the Belle Chasse area experience congested traffic operations on Belle Chasse Highway (LA 23) during peak commuting periods, as demand increases for access to nearby schools, industries and the Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base New Orleans. Opportunities to alleviate congestion, improve level of service and traffic operations will help reduce travel times in the area, thus creating benefits through reduction of time lost in traffic.

Because of the importance of this transportation link, the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (NORPC) has included the Belle Chasse Tunnel and Judge Perez Bridge replacement as part of the adopted Long range regional transportation plan. DOTD has identified the project as a Priority A Megaproject in the financially constrained State Transportation Plan.

 

Project Leadership

The EA process is being led by the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (NORPC) and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The EA is being developed by Burk-Kleinpeter, Inc. (BKI), with assistance from HNTB, Trigon Associates, LLC and Earth Search, Inc.

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