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The Bridge Watch:  " News " "St. Francisville may have dodged bridge bullet"
By MILFORD FRYER - Suburban Editor
Morning Advocate Published on 2/4/01

Plans for a Mississippi River bridge at St. Francisville began a decade ago when Buddy Roemer was governor. Since then Edwin Edwards has been governor, Mike Foster has served one term and is a year into a second term.

During that time, the process for building the bridge has oozed along, inch by inch, as six proposed routes were whittled to two. Throughout the process, only rudimentary interest was shown.

Now, the opposition to the northernmost of the two remaining corridors is gathering like William Wallace’s forces preparing for the invasion of the English.

For example, The Advocate has covered virtually every meeting, session, hearing and gathering related to the bridge, yet a couple of weeks ago the Baker-Zachary-Felicianas Bureau of the newspaper began receiving e-mail messages that all but accused the paper of missing or ignoring this major issue.

The push for publicity came as the opposition became stronger and more organized and was about to descend on the Police Jury to persuade the jurors to oppose the northern corridor. The jurors acquiesced and adopted a resolution against the route.

Many in the crowd opposed any bridge in the parish. The Police Jury said it would support the state Department of Transportation and Development in developing an alternate bridge alignment downstream from the La. 10 ferry crossing at St. Francisville.

Not that the preservationists don’t have a point, the problem is the belated blaring of it. A bridge across the Mississippi River is years in the making, and the length of time that has elapsed getting this far more than establishes that point.

The area served by the bridge -- West Feliciana and Pointe Coupee parishes -- can use the commerce that a major highway and bridge would bring. West Feliciana Parish has adopted a strong zoning code to protect the parish’s beauty, so development would tend to be on a higher plane than many surrounding areas.

Even if no development were to occur, the bridge is needed. A ferry can handle only so much traffic, and waits at rush periods can be agonizing. The only alternative, though, is a half-hour drive to the U.S. 190 bridge in Baton Rouge or an hour drive to Natchez.

The Zachary Taylor Parkway Commission needs the bridge to complete its plans for a major highway connecting Interstate 59 near Poplarville, Miss., with Interstate 49 in Alexandria. The parkway would generally follow the current La. 10 across the Florida Parishes to New Roads and then generally follow La. 1 to I-49.

Actual construction of the bridge wouldn’t start for another four years. A lengthy delay in selecting a corridor would push it back even further.

The main objections are that a bridge rising above the historic town of St. Francisville would ruin the ambience and that it would be environmentally unwise to build a bridge across the Cat Island Swamp.

St. Francisville and the entire parish are steeped in history, with major plantations and other historic sites, and having a major bridge rising over them or in the background would, indeed, do harm to the ambience that makes the area a major tourist destination in the state.

As for the Cat Island Swamp, a lot of people worked hard to preserve the swamp and turn nearly 10,000 acres into a national wildlife refuge. That should be complete in a couple or three years. A bridge and approaches running across it would seem to defeat the purpose.

The opponents seem to have acted in time, and revisions may be made without overly delaying the project. With a cooperative approach, something should be worked out that will allow the bridge but protect the historically and environmentally sensitive areas of the parish.

West Feliciana Citizens BridgeWatch