(The Center Square) — Louisiana motorists traveling the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge will soon be greeted with new signage, increased fines, and speed cameras under legislation signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to designate the 18-mile stretch a “highway safety corridor.”
Edwards last week signed into law Senate Bill 435, sponsored by Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, to designate the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge as a “highway safety corridor,” a nationally recognized term used for high fatality areas.
The bill, now Act 426, spawned from increasing crash statistics on the narrow bridge and Cortez’s personal experiences during his daily commute to Baton Rouge.
The legislation will add signage notifying motorists of the new designation, which doubles fines on the bridge, the site of 229 crashes resulting in two deaths and 89 injuries last year. The law also installs eight sets of speed limit signs, six sets of signs restricting trucks to the right lane only and will authorize the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to install speed cameras to track drivers.
“What this will ultimately save is … lives,” DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson told lawmakers in committee. “Because speed kills. Where people speed, you tend to have deaths when there are crashes and collisions.”
“The other thing it does is when you have those deaths and collisions, it takes up tremendous amounts of time for folks that are stuck on that bridge,” he said. “All of those factors we believe will be reduced as a result of this bill.”
Wilson testified that enforcing the speed limit and other laws on the bridge is currently problematic because the narrow roadway creates a dangerous situation for officers monitoring traffic from the shoulder.
SB 435 cleared both the House and Senate with overwhelming support and no testimony in opposition, though a motorist advocacy group, the National Motorists Association, told The Center Square the bill is problematic for a number of reasons.
National Motorists Association spokeswoman Sheila Dunn said that while cameras can identify and track a vehicle, “you don’t always know who is driving the car.”
Dunn also suggested “there’s a lot of other things they can do” to reduce crashes besides installing speed cameras.
“Something that might be better would be to spend money on signs that tell you how fast you’re going,” she said.
Dunn contends speed cameras in general pose issues with Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution because “you can’t face your accuser if it’s a camera.”
Provisions in the new law, including doubled fines for the bridge, will become effective on August 1, 2022.
Wilson told a House committee DOTD would only capture enough money from tickets to cover the cost of operating the camera system and would send the bulk of the fines to the two parishes along the roadway — Iberville and St. Martin parishes.
The new law preserves officer discretion on issuing tickets, Cortez said in committee, and ensures that no person shall be subject to a citation from a camera if they are also issued a citation for the same offense by a police officer.
Wilson testified in committee 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.