Louisiana News

Louisiana lawmakers want to put speed cameras on Atchafalaya corridor

(The Center Square) — Motorists on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge could face higher fines enforced by speed cameras under a proposal that cleared the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works last week.

Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, told committee members he sponsored Senate Bill 435 to designate the 18-mile stretch a “highway safety corridor” based on crash statistics and his personal experiences during his daily commute to Baton Rouge.

Cortez said on Thursday that semi-trucks regularly flaunt the bridge’s 55 mph speed limit and ignore signs that require the trucks to stay in the right lane. Enforcement is an issue because it’s not practical for police to park along the shoulder and the unsafe driving often causes crashes that can divert traffic for hours, he said.

“We’re trying to create some behavior modification,” Cortez said. “People will not change unless you force them to change.”

The bill was initially aimed at increasing fines on the roadway by five times, but was amended in committee to designate the bridge as a “highway safety corridor,” a nationally recognized term used for high fatality areas.

The amendment called for doubling fines, increasing signage, and speed cameras in an effort to modify a series of behaviors including speeding, aggressive driving, impairment and distracted driving.

“You have to know what’s expected of you and then if you don’t do it, there’s a consequence,” Cortez said.

In 2020, the bridge was the site of 203 crashes that resulted in two deaths and 55 injuries. Last year, those figures increased to 269 crashes with two deaths and 89 injuries, he said.

Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson explained how cameras set up on the bridge could clock drivers along the route to determine if they’re speeding and to issue warnings and tickets to violators.

“We can calculate the speed and the time and the distance to say, ‘at some point in the bridge you broke the law,’” Wilson said. “Our intent is to provide notification, provide warning, and on your third offense you get the violation for whatever that ticket is.”

“It’s that behavior modification that matters to us, because when you have speed you typically have fatalities, and when you have fatalities you’re shutting that interstate system down,” he said.

Three minutes saved from speeding on the bridge “could very easily convert to six or eight hours of a closed interstate system that costs time and money,” Wilson said.

The secretary told the committee he was passed by 42 vehicles on the bridge, including two semi-trucks, on the way to the capital while driving the 60 mph speed limit for passenger vehicles.

Wilson noted that the use of speed cameras could be restricted to times of peak traffic and accidents.

“The one thing that will have the biggest effect, I believe, is having a sign that says speed controlled by cameras, because when you see those signs it slows you down,” he said.

Cortez said SB 435 will likely go through the Senate Finance Committee because of costs associated with issuing warnings and tickets. The bulk of fines would go to the two parishes along the roadway — Iberville and St. Martin parishes — minus an administrative cost for the Department of Transportation and Development, he said.

Shelia Dunn, spokeswoman for the National Motorists Association (NMA), an advocacy group for motorists, said “there’s a lot of other things they can do” before resorting to speed cameras.

The NMA opposes all kinds of traffic cameras for a number of reasons, she said.

While cameras can identify a vehicle, “you don’t always know who is driving the car,” Dunn said.

There’s also issues with Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution because “you can’t face your accuser if it’s a camera,” she said.

“Something that might be better would be to spend money on signs that tell you how fast you’re going,” Dunn said.

SB 435 cleared the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works without objection.

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