The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
Dec. 7—Patrons of Tigerland’s bars leapt onto, climbed over and fell from the partially demolished Bob Pettit Boulevard Bridge while heading to and from the popular student bar district on the first weekend of the bridge’s months-long closure.
At least nine videos posted on popular LSU student-run social media pages show droves of young adults attempting to find a way across the Bayou Fountain crossing. People were filmed climbing construction equipment, and several videos showed people falling from or leaping off of the bridge, which is more than 10 feet in air above the creek bed below.
One woman was forced to go to the hospital after injuring her ankle from the fall, according to one of the videos.
“We saw a video this morning of a girl who had climbed to the top (of the bridge) and then fell backwards on her back,” said Marc Fraioli, the owner of Fred’s Bar and Grill. “It’s hard to watch.”
The scenes played out less than a week into work began to replace the 52-year-old span, which is a major pedestrian and vehicle link between Tigerland and the LSU campus. City-parish officials say the bridge must be replaced because it’s outdated and was a safety concern. The new bridge is expected to open in mid-2022.
Until then, drivers and pedestrians alike will have to enter the area from Brightside Drive and take Alvin Dark Avenue through the neighborhood, leaving the bars on Bob Pettit at the “end of a one-mile dead end,” Fraioli said.
Fraioli said he and other bar owners warned the city-parish this would happen.
“Sad to say, but it unfolded as we expected,” Fraioli said.
Fraioli and the city-parish have been negotiating for months over the possible installation of a temporary pedestrian bridge near the construction site. City-parish officials say there’s no money left in the budget to pay for the bridge. Fraioli said he may fork over as much as $100,000 for a temporary bridge, but the permitting that comes with installing the bridge near train tracks may make it impossible.
“It is unlikely regulators or the railroad company would approve such a project in a timely manner, but City-Parish will continue to work with the business owners to potentially pursue the option,” city-parish spokesman Mark Armstrong said in a statement.
District 12 Metro Councilwoman Jennifer Racca, who represents the area, said she’s had conversations with the city-parish and bar owners but also voiced pessimism about the likelihood of a pedestrian bridge.
Racca said she’s received calls from people calling for Tigerland’s bars to be shut down if the scenes from the previous weekend continue to repeat themselves.
“The total access has not been eliminated from these locations,” Racca said. “There are alternate routes, just these people are choosing not to take these routes. For the safety of all people involved, I would strongly suggest that people not jump over an area that previously had a bridge. I never imagined that we would have to say that.”
With his efforts to build a temporary bridge likely mired in red tape, Fraioli had a simple response to the delays: “F*— the bureaucracy.”
“Do you want to see somebody really get hurt or do you want to address it? I can’t stand it,” Faioli added.
In the videos from over the weekend, there were no police officers or private security on hand to direct bargoers to the detour.
Armstrong said the city-parish is “considering its options” for increasing police presence at the construction scene, “but must also be prudent on behalf of the taxpayers.”
Along with students on a night out, the construction also affects the thousands of residents that live within the neighborhood of Tigerland.
Two people were seen crossing Bayou Fountain by foot at the scene of the construction on Monday afternoon. There were no barriers set up to prevent someone from walking to the edge of the drop on either side.
Racca emphasized the need for a new bridge at the crossing and that the work will be completed relatively soon.
“The most important thing that everybody has to realize is this is temporary,” Racca said “It will open back up.”
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