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WBRZ suggests stronger safety measures on I-10, La. DOTD agrees to consider more signage

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BATON ROUGE – In an afternoon conference call with the WBRZ Investigative Unit, the state's traffic czar agreed to look into new ways to warn drivers of gridlock on I-10 approaching Baton Rouge.

The call with La. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson came a day after a handful of people were severely injured in a chain-reaction crash in West Baton Rouge. Tuesday, the injured had to be cut from mangled vehicles that were crushed by tractor-trailers. A five-year-old was among the injured and as of this post, clings to life in ICU at an area hospital.

The frustration of numerous wrecks along the stretch of highway that is gridlocked nightly solicited an emotional remark from the top traffic cop in West Baton Rouge at at the scene.

"Until we get this bridge fixed, until they stop I-10 from being reduced from two lanes to one lane, this is going to continue to happen," said Lt. Ken Albarez of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office.

While a solution to the choking point – I-10 between the river and Washington Street in Baton Rouge – is a long way off, many have wondered if there are faster solutions to just letting drivers know they are approaching eastbound gridlock before arriving at the bridge. After numerous wrecks this summer, including a fiery one involving 18-wheelers, the state installed yellow signs, typical of any road-side visual aid, warning drivers that there is traffic likely upcoming. Wednesday, Wilson said ideas presented by WBRZ for larger signs could be an option, and would be discussed.

In Mobile, Alabama, drivers approaching the tunnel on I-10 pass as many as four large, overhead signs that declare dangerous conditions approach and remind drivers to slow down as they enter the tunnel in hopes of deterring an accident. Wilson agreed to discuss similar, large signs to install overhead with the state's interstate safety team once the police report of Tuesday's wreck is finalized. Wilson said the state routinely is copied on final drafts of an officer's investigation in high-profile crashes on state highways.

Wilson cautioned, though, signage must meet certain federal usage and design regulations. In addition, Wilson said he would discuss the idea of rumble strips across travel lanes to alert drivers into realizing they need to pay attention.

Most wrecks on the busy stretch of I-10 between the Iberville/West Baton Rouge Parish line and the river involve inattentive drivers who rear-end vehicles who stopped in traffic.

Such extreme measures may or may not prevent future crashes, but are the most cost effective way to simply keep commuters alive. Federal authorities agreed.

“...[Rumble strips] are commonly used on slower speed routes, but I don’t see anything that says they couldn’t be used at the location you described,” a federal highway official wrote in an email with WBRZ when questioned about the use of grooves into the highway. Federal authorities suggest such a design measure in places drivers need to be warned abruptly about an “unexpected change in the roadway, such as the need to change lanes, slow down or stop.”

Any additional safety measure on I-10 would not be done immediately, Wilson said, but vowed to have a conversation about such measures. 

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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