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‘Don’t bug out’: Causeway catch drivers’ attention

June 29, 2019

LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN, La. (AP) — Slow the flock down.

It’s good to have gas.

Don’t bug out, they’re dropping like flies.

For commuters used to driving the nearly 24 miles of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, these cheeky phrases have become part of their daily routine, displayed in bright letters on the bridge’s electronic traffic boards.

Every Wednesday, the signs debut a new witticism alongside safety information and statistics for what has become known as “What’s Up Wednesday.” The signs are paired with online blog posts offering information about Causeway safety and crashes.

Back in 2017, the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission, the agency that runs the bridge, took inspiration from the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Zero Fatalities program, which uses traffic boards to display funny safety messages.

Tracey Bramble, one of the authors of the program in Iowa, said that almost 40 states have reached out to Iowa about starting similar programs.

“We liked the humorous approach but also wanted to get the message out about what happens on the Causeway,” said Carlton Dufrechou, the bridge’s general manager.

Starting in January 2018, the signs began displaying playful messages alongside DWI statistics, emergency response rates and the number of bridge crashes to date.

The message heading into Easter weekend read: “Some bunny loves you, drive safe.”

The Causeway began accepting public submissions for signs and formed a committee to work on the project.

The messages have gotten cheekier over time, and even though he appreciates the creativity of some submissions, Dufrechou said the committee screens and sometimes alters submitted messages to keep the project “G-rated.”

“It took off like bonkers,” he said of the idea.

The messages often draw on current events to catch the eye of drivers. Last week’s board reassured commuters, “Don’t bug out, they’re dropping like flies,” a reference to the millions of aquatic midges that have recently swarmed the Causeway, coating cars in layers of dead bugs.

But one of the most popular signs came after the infamous Saints v. Rams NFC Championship game in January. The bridge displayed a simple statement, “We were robbed,” that later blew up on social media.

The committee — two police officers, a dispatch supervisor, the IT manager and a rotating staff member from the commission — takes submissions and meets weekly to discuss what traffic or safety information commuters need to know.

While some drivers have told Dufrechou they enjoy the humor of the signs, Iowa’s Bramble said the program is about more than that.

“We do have some research that says people are changing their behaviors based on the messaging they are seeing,” Bramble said.

Dufrechou expressed a similar hope about the impact of the signs in Louisiana.

“It’s premature, with only a year of data to go down this road, but we did have a decrease in crashes last year on the bridge, and I would like to think that that’s partially as a result of the heightened awareness of motorists,” Dufrechou said.

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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