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Causeway death sparks concerns over safety of spans

Last month, another Causeway motorist died after plunging into the cold waters of Lake Pontchartrain after some unknown mishap caused him to ride the railing of the southbound span before going over into the lake.

WWL-TV reporters interviewed Causeway Commissioner Carlton Dufrechou, who stated that a dive team from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office had recovered the driver's body the next day. The man, who was initially presumed to be in his mid-40s, was identified as a 33-year-old New Orleans resident. The Coast Guard assisted with recovery efforts.

The tragedy unfolded in the early morning hours, as footage from the Causeway cameras show a pickup truck going into the lake around 3:45 a.m., after damaging yards of the left side of the southbound span's guardrail.

Aging span needs refurbishing, safety features added

According to Dufrechou, this latest incident was the 15th "overboard" in the last 20 years, all of which took place on the southbound bridge. That span is the original construction, which was built in 1956 and only has 2-foot high railings to protect motorists from going over the sides into Lake Pontchartrain.

Dufrechou stressed that there was a need for safety improvements to be made to the New Orleans-bound lanes, which would be the sole reason to increase the amount of the tolls to cross the Causeway. However, whether commuters would support a toll hike remains to be seen.

Inherent dangers of the 24-mile Causeway

While providing much-needed access between the Lake's north and south shores, the Causeway remains a dangerous passage. Although commuters routinely cross the Causeway both morning and night to get to and from the city and back to St. Tammany where many make their homes, inclement weather conditions frequently cause one or both sides to be shut down while a squall passes through or winds are gusting.

If no improvements have been added to enhance the bridge's safety in the last 60 years, one could surmise that it is well past the time for doing so now. In fatal accidents like last month's tragedy, where no driver impairment is suspected, it may never be known what caused the driver to lose control and enter the water.

Those who have been injured in similar circumstances where outdated safety features may have played a role may be able to pursue financial recovery from the agencies tasked with maintaining safe highways and bridges around the metro area. Often, a skillful personal injury attorney can uncover multiple defendants that each share liability for an injured person's accident.

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