Fortune hunters, holiday travelers to compound bridge traffic woes

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 23, 2002

[12/21/02]The journey across the Mississippi River bridge to buy a Powerball ticket that could be worth $215 million could itself be a gamble due to heavy traffic and construction projects.

“Anybody who goes over can expect a hard time getting back,” said Cameron Douglas, public information officer for Louisiana State Police Troop F.

An eastbound lane on the Mississippi River Bridge has been closed for a year-and-a-half as employees from the Texas Bridge Co. give the 29-year-old bridge its first-ever paint job.

Westbound travelers face similar obstacles as road construction on Interstate 20 in Delta limits traffic to one lane for about a mile from the bridge to the Louisiana weigh station.

Hattie Vines, manager at Interstate Chevron in Delta, said a good number of Powerball players are expected to travel across the Mississippi River bridge over the weekend at a chance to win the Powerball jackpot.

“If I said a number I’d be guessing,” Vines said. “but a lot of our business comes from across the line.”

The Powerball is played in 20 states, and numbers are drawn twice weekly. Powerball tickets will be sold until 9 tonight for this week’s drawing. The winning numbers will be drawn tonight at 10.

If there is not a winner, another drawing will be held Wednesday and the jackpot will be increased.

Douglas said he expects increased traffic over the Mississippi River Bridge into the Delta from Powerball players and mostly holiday travelers to cause traffic delays.

“I expect the same delays we had over Thanksgiving, unless DOT is able to open another lane,” he said.

Douglas said over the travel days during Thanksgiving there were two big delays, both credited to accidents that backed up traffic 15 and 16 miles for about three hours.

Gary Icenole, district construction engineer for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said opening additional lanes is not possible before the holiday season.

“The construction project is still ongoing,” he said. “We may be in a position to open the eastbound lanes to two the week after Christmas, but the westbound lanes will remain the same.”

Gary Olman, supervisor for the Texas Bridge Co., said the Mississippi River Bridge eastbound would also be closed to one lane during the season.

“We considered opening up to two lanes but with I-20 in Delta not being able to open up to two lanes, it would not be a benefit,” he said.

Icenole said LDOTD added extra message reader signs to warn motorists of merging traffic.

“In one-lane areas, if there are accidents, it will cause big delays,” he said. “We encourage people to slow to 55 mph.”

Icenole said he expects today, Sunday and Christmas Eve to be the heaviest traffic days.

Icenole said the roadway construction project in Delta could be completed in mid-January if the weather is favorable, but the Mississippi River Bridge painting project will continue until the summer.