Home » Senate committee votes to halt Atchafalaya Bridge fine increase

Senate committee votes to halt Atchafalaya Bridge fine increase

by Minden Press-Herald

By Elizabeth White | LSU Manship School News Service  

The Senate Transportation, Highway and Public Works Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to reverse legislation from 2022 that would have doubled fines and installed camera safety devices on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge on I-10.

Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, and Sen. Caleb Kleinpeter, R-Port Allen, proposed Senate Bill 379 on behalf of the sheriffs and district attorneys and citizens of Iberville and St. Martin parishes. 

They said that the fines, which could rise to $700 or more, would be prohibitive for most drivers. State and local officials also testified that most of the money from the fines would go to the company operating the cameras.

Law-enforcement officials said they would prefer to have their officers patrol that stretch of roadway, and that would enable them to keep most of the fine money to help pay for their justice systems.

“We have to properly fund our criminal justice system,” said Miguez. “We want to make sure we deter crime in this state and make sure that we have a police presence.”

In 2022, former Gov. John Bel Edwards signed Act No. 426 into law which designated the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge a highway safety corridor and proposed a three-phase process to implement safety restrictions. The changes began in August of 2022.

The first and second phase added more speed limit signs and signs that show drivers their speed when on the bridge. These two phases also changed the speed limit to 60 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks. 

Phase three would require the Department of Transportation Development to contract out camera safety devices and have them installed on the bridge. Once that was completed, citations for speeding would double, totaling from $700 to $1,000 depending on previous offenses. 

The new bill would repeal phase three to keep a majority of the money from citations from going to the company that installed and maintained the cameras rather than to parish governments, as citations issued by officers do.

“This is very different than how the funds flow with a normal citation where those dollars go to things like our criminal court, our district attorneys, our sheriffs, our clerks, our crime labs,” said Miguez. “The last thing we need to do is make sure that these funds go towards a private entity and not straight to our locals.” 

The original act passed because of safety concerns on the bridge, with its narrow lanes and 18-inch shoulders. However, both the Iberville and St. Martin sheriffs testified that they have exhausted many resources over the last few years to increase safety on the bridge. 

“The efforts that my deputies are doing are working and, and when we were notified that there was an issue on I-10, we addressed the issue, and that’s what we’re doing now,” said St. Martin Sheriff Becket Breaux. “In 2019 there was one fatality crash, 126 wrecks, and in 2023 no fatalities and 103 wrecks.” 

Supporters of the change also shared concerns over relying on the camera safety devices rather than patrol cars stopping speeders because police stops can sometimes lead to arrests for other crimes. 

If the bill were to be passed through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jeff Landry, phase three would not take effect, and the bridge would no longer be designated a highway safety corridor. However, the safety measures from the first two phases would remain. 

The committee also unanimously passed an amended version of Senate Bill 302, proposed by Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, involving red-light camera and enforcement devices held by police officers. 

The amendment changed the bill to provide parameters for using the automated speed enforcement devices, such as specifying how far a speed limit sign must be before a device to give drivers’ fair warning of the limit.

Senate Bill 279 was also debated Wednesday and drew a large audience. The bill, brought by Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, would have prohibited individuals who are unlawfully in the United States or do not have insurance from driving on highways.

Fesi voluntarily deferred the bill after members of the committee pointed out that similar measures were struck down by the Louisiana Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

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