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Causeway fatality draws focus to bridge safety

It's a drive many St. Tammany Parish residents make twice daily without a second thought, crossing the nearly 24 miles of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway routinely and without incident. But when problems occur over the spans, they can become catastrophic quickly and with little warning.

Part of the reason for the danger is that there is literally no way to take evasive action when you are on the bridge and something goes awry. Whether it's a pile-up of cars ahead of you, a blown tire on an 18-wheeler, driver inattention or some other road hazard, unless a driver is near one of the few turnarounds on the Causeway, the only option is braking and praying.

Vehicles at risk for plunging into the lake

Recently, as a search and rescue turned into a recovery effort, another family grieves the loss of their loved one who was pulled from the lake bottom, still strapped into his pickup truck by his seatbelt. At present, the investigation into the circumstances of the 33-year-old New Orleans man's accident remain as murky as the lake after a hard rain.

Driver impairment is not thought to be the reason for this latest death. Motorists certainly don't have to be intoxicated to get into collisions on the Causeway or the other highway spans over bodies of water here in southeast Louisiana. From the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge over Interstate 10 to our west, to the bridges over the Bonnet Carré Spillway, the Twin Spans and Manchac Swamp to the south and north, southeast Louisiana roads are a patchwork connected by these vital bridges.

At what price is safety?

Drivers on the Causeway - which came in at number five on one list of the 10 most dangerous highways in America - must exercise more than the usual level of caution as they proceed across the bridges headed north- or southbound. The Causeway is highly susceptible to fog, and can also become too dangerous to traverse when the winds gust at high speeds. Drivers often have to use their headlights and should always leave plenty of room between their vehicles and the car or truck ahead of them, should they need to brake suddenly.

But what needs to be done to make the Causeway safer? Certainly raising the two-foot railings on the southern span would be one step toward a safer passage for motorists. Of course, as with any highway project, there is a price tag attached. Finding the funds for highway improvements on a state budget stretched tight already can be problematic.

Seeking compensation after an accident can help victims

If you get injured in an accident caused by another driver on the Causeway or any other stretch of Louisiana roads, you can choose to pursue a claim for compensation. Sometimes a diligent and aggressive personal injury attorney can reveal multiple defendants - such as the agencies tasked with maintaining highway safety and hazard-free roads - that may share in the liability, thus increasing the claimant's eventual settlement or judgment.

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