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While tragic, deadly I-10 wreck shows problems with 6-year-old traffic plan

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PRAIRIEVILLE – State Police tried to calm frustration from drivers in Ascension Parish after a crash at 2 a.m. Wednesday closed I-10 into Baton Rouge and backlogged most roads for the entire morning commute.

The wreck, on the shoulder of I-10 near the Bluff Road overpass, forced emergency responders to close westbound lanes from Ascension Parish into East Baton Rouge until nearly 7 a.m. For hours Wednesday, surface streets in Ascension Parish were clogged.

“Crashes, especially those involving 18-wheelers, can provide unique challenges for first responders and often require roadways to be closed for extended periods,” a State Police spokesperson said in a statement about the crash.

“Troopers would like to remind the public that while investigating crash scenes the safety of all those involved, as well as the safety of other motorists, is paramount. First responders and emergency crews will continue to work diligently to reopen roadways as quickly and safely as possible to minimize the effect on the motoring public.”

Dean Critten, 51, of Marrero, died in the crash. Investigators said he was driving on the shoulder and rear-ended the semi stopped in the emergency lane. State Police said Critten’s vehicle slid deep under the trailer and wedged it in a difficult place for recovery and towing.

“...The trailer became unstable due to damage sustained in the crash and required I-10 to be closed,” State Police said.

Annoyed drivers complained about the situation the closed interstate caused on alternate thoroughfares, especially ones headed toward Baton Rouge.

“[My wife had to go] a mile and half … and it took her over an hour,” one man sounded off to a WBRZ reporter.

“You’re going to be stuck in traffic all morning,” WBRZ’s traffic reporter, Ashley Fruge, warned drivers of Ascension Parish in various live reports.

And, it’s not what they wanted to hear.

“...We're going to add more traffic lanes [to I-10], but we don't have the infrastructure [off the interstate]… and it's horrible,” a driver said.

The bemoaning isn’t new – and the state has reacted before.

In 2012, the state was forced to make changes after a series of crashes on the interstate blocked I-10 for a total of 35 hours because of unrelated wrecks. The worst was a 27-hour closure when a chemical truck wrecked in the middle of Baton Rouge.

Drivers had had enough, so the state and State Police spearheaded the Traffic Incident Management System. A coordinated effort that had one goal – to clear wrecks and lane blockages faster.

“The whole deal … [is]… getting the right people... and getting there as quickly as possible” to get the roads open, then Superintendent of State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said.

“The quicker we can get the roadway cleared, the less issues we're gonna have with secondary impacts; And secondary impacts are more likely to be caused for every minute we have the road closed due to a primary impact,” a DOTD official said in a news conference glorifying the new idea.

Then, the Baton Rouge area had the worst clearance rate time of any highway system in the state.

Six years later, though, the WBRZ Investigative Unit learned some suggestions outlined at the news conference are not followed. Likely because there is no set policy.

Through interviews and emails with officials, WBRZ learned there appears to be an unorganized plan – varying thoughts on who should be hired to haul off wreckage, how to track down additional law enforcement manpower to deal with the wreck or direct traffic and, of course, budgetary constraints.

Annoyance has been exacerbated this summer, especially after a wreck on I-10 West near Lafayette closed the Basin Bridge for 15-hours. Drivers were forced off I-10 at Hwy. 415 and gridlocked US 190 and other surface streets in West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Pointe Coupee. Then, a roughly hour drive to Lafayette took nearly 4 hours.

The time it takes traffic to clear is increased by four or seven minutes for each minute it takes emergency personnel to reach the scene of a crash.

In Ascension Wednesday, people are just tired of time wasted in traffic.

“We moved down here about 7 or 8 years ago and got the new road and we thought it would help the traffic, but we still got plenty of traffic,” a driver said.

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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