2014 Federal Highway Administration data shows that 29-percent of Louisiana's nearly 13,000 bridges are deficient. That's the 14th highest percentage in the United States.
Louisiana DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett says motorists should not take this description of bridges in Louisiana too literally.
"'Structurally deficient' or 'deficient' or 'functionally obsolete' are unfortunate terms used by engineers to describe the need of repair for certain bridges, but it doesn't mean that it's unsafe."
He says DOTD is working to replace and repair as many bridges as they can. Mallett says most bridges are on an inspection schedule of once every two years, with some on a six month schedule. He says there are 81 bridge inspectors throughout the state.
"As they go out, if they determine that there need to be any repairs, then we have a maintenance group that will go out and repair and replace bridges as needed."
Mallett says, since 2008, DOTD has spent $1.3 billion to replace or repair 467 bridges across the state. He says motorists should not think that that they can't safely cross bridges in Louisiana.
"If a bridge is unsafe, then we will close that bridge and we've done that in the past."
The Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office says a now former Alexandria Police Officer is under arrest amid allegations he had sex with a juvenile. Lt. Tommy Carnline says they first got the complaint on December 1st of last year.
"The Sheriff's Office was contacted in reference to allegations of criminal sexual misconduct involving an Alexandria Police Officer," said Carnline.
He says the city of Alexandria conducted their own internal investigation after the alleged incident occurred and the accused, 38-year-old Deric Reed, was placed on leave immediately.
"We finished our investigation and turned it over to the DA's office," said Carnline.
Carnline says the alleged inappropriate sexual conduct occurred while Reed was off duty and it was outside the City of Alexandria. He says Reed no longer works for the Alexandria Police Department.
The suspect was arrested today for 1 count of Carnal Knowledge of a Juvenile.
Two Slidell residents have been arrested after they allegedly forced a one-year-old to drink beer. Slidell police detective Daniel Seuzenau says the child's grandfather noticed signs of abuse.
"So we opened up an investigation and discovered that Brett Flower, who is the boyfriend of the mother, Krysten Verdin, was pouring beer down the child's throat."
24-year-old Brett Flower and 23-year-old Krysten Verdin were arrested on cruelty to juvenile charges. Seuzenau says Flower poured the beer the down the infant's throat, because he thought it was funny.
"Obviously it's sick, it's not funny and we are very glad the grandfather came forward."
Seuzenau says when Flower poured the beer down the child's throat, it caused him to choke and regurgitate and Verdin then would get upset with the child.
"She would then slap the child on the back of the head, causing him to fall to the floor, this happened on several occasions, according to witnesses.
As students in Northeast Louisiana miss their 4th winter weather day in a row, officials say all these days off could mean longer days for students. The state requires 63,720 instructional minutes per student per academic year, and Ouachita Parish Superintendent Bob Webber says they've already exceed extra time that is incorporated for inclement weather.
"But what we'll actually do now is regroup and see where we are," said Webber. "Hopefully we can just add minutes to each day."
Webber says the first option will be tacking minutes to the end of each day through the end of the year, but they are very close to adding entire extra days to the calendar. Webber says in his 13 and a half years as Superintendent, he's never seen more than 2 inclement weather days in a row.
"Even away from school, I don't remember this much snow and ice lasting so long," said Webber.
In addition to the four days this week, Monroe City schools were also out a day in October last year because of an EF-2 tornado that tore through Ouachita Parish causing widespread damage.
Webber says even though they have a significant amount of time to make up, you would always rather be safe than sorry when it comes to putting kids on buses in snow and ice.
"And even your teenage drivers, you're concerned about them because they aren't used to driving in this weather and they may drive too fast," said Webber. "Each time you always want to make sure safety is your number one concern."
The ongoing rift between Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator David Vitter is getting national press. In a recent interview with the National Journal, Jindal told the reporter to turn the recorder off and he'd say what he really thinks about Vitter.
Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says voters in Louisiana do not want to see these two fighting amongst themselves.
"And since they elected all of them, they want them to get along, they want them to get things done for Louisiana. Anything short of that, it's like you're violating the public trust."
Both the governor and senator have taken shrewd jabs at each other over the years. Pinsonat says it's amazing that Jindal is getting involved in this now, seeing that he is eyeing a run for president. He says this could hurt the governor's aspirations.
"I don't see how it benefits him nationally to be involved in a fight with your United States Senator."
Vitter is in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign to succeed Jindal. Pinsonat says this rift could actually benefit Vitter in his quest to become the state's next governor.
"Vitter can quietly go around Louisiana talking to all the rural Democrats who do not like Jindal and tell them Jindal doesn't like him."
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says The Bayou State now has the second highest number of bald eagles that are nesting. Michael Seymour works with all non-game birds with LDWF and he says over the past couple of weeks they've been using helicopters to survey nests of bald eagles.
He says in 2007 they discovered about 340 nesting pairs.
"This year there were more, at almost 360 nests," said Seymour. "That's not a huge jump but the good news is that it's not a decrease."
Seymour says they looked at 647 nests and found that 356 were active with eggs, young and adults tending to them. He says most of them were located in the southeastern part of the state.
"That's where most of our swamp land is and the birds seem to like cypress trees and pine trees," said Seymour.
Seymour says bald eagles build families during the first few months of the year which is why they have recently conducted a new survey. He says there are so many bald eagles flying around in Louisiana that it's not unusual for you to spot one.
"They see them and report them along the side of the interstate," said Seymour. "There are several along the route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans which people have seen and reported to us."
LSU says an audit they performed finds newly-elected US Senator Bill Cassidy provided services to the university that equaled the 20-thousand dollar salary that he received. There were allegations during the US Senate race that Cassidy was paid for work he didn't perform.
Political Blogger Lamar White helped break the story that started the controversy and does not think the audit completely clears Cassidy.
"It relies almost entirely on hearsay, conflicting, contradicting testimony from employees, that seems to me to be extremely unusual," White said.
Doctor Cassidy, who is a liver specialist, said in a written response that the audit provides sufficient facts to conclude that he provided services for equal or more than that of his compensation. But White says the audit confirms that gaps do exist in Cassidy's time sheets, and he still questions whether Cassidy double-dipped.
"How can he can be in Washington DC voting and then at the same claim that he was at clinics in Baton Rouge, none of those questions were answered," White said.
Eleven children were injured in a single vehicle bus school bus crash in Rapides Parish Tuesday morning. Trooper Scott Moreau says the bus was traveling down muddy Highway 121 when the driver lost control and the bus overturned on its side.
"All eleven children and the driver received minor to moderate injuries and were transported to the local hospital. The kids ages ranged from 5 to 15," Moreau said.
Moreau says State Police are not expecting any charges for the driver but the investigation is still ongoing. He says they are looking to find a reason why there was so much mud on the road.
"As it appears right now it looks like he did all he could. It was around 6:15 so it was just getting daylight, it was dawn and viability is low," Moreau said.
The Legislative Black Caucus calls on Governor Bobby Jindal to stay in Louisiana and deal with the state's budget crisis. Monday, Jindal spoke against President Obama at a press conference outside the White House.
Monroe Representative Katrina Jackson says the governor needs to set aside his presidential aspirations and concentrate on problems facing Louisiana.
"It's very imperative, number one, that the governor stop holding conferences on the White House lawn and begin to hold conferences and meetings with legislators to solve this budget crisis."
It is reported that Jindal spent 45-percent of his time outside of Louisiana in 2014. Jackson says Jindal is overly concerned with party politics and issues that are irrelevant in regards to the state's budget shortfall.
"Come home and deal with the problems we have. Come home and solve this crisis before we see institutions of higher education close."
Jackson says they are reviewing tax credits in an effort to bring money back into the state. Baton Rouge Representative Ted James says Louisiana is in the governor's rear view mirror and is not optimistic that Jindal will have much bearing in his last months in office.
"We all know the governor has been absent for seven years. I don't expect him to come in the next seven months and try to have some type of presence here at the capitol in his last session."
The Department of Motor Vehicles is urging citizens to be sure their local driver education program is properly certified through the state -- and now there's a way you can check online.
State Police Sgt Nick Manale says the OMV regulates driver education programs throughout Louisiana to make sure education is up to par and that they have a license to operate."
"It's important that parents of teens or even new drivers to make sure that their driving school is licensed and certified through the state," said Manale. "That way you have all of the right training that's required."
Manale says the new web resource is offered through expresslane.org and it provides information on state licensed driver education providers so new drivers can verify theirs has met all applicable standards and certifications.
"It gives you information not only on the licensed driving schools that we do have in the state, but also inactive schools that have not met the proper criteria."
Manale says only applicants who have attended a properly licensed education provider will be eligible to receive a learner's permit or new license.
"There may be some companies out there that offer certain programs, but it's not the specific course that's required by the state for a student to get that permit."
The chances of you getting audited by the IRS is getting smaller. The IRS audit rate dropped to its lowest level in at least ten years last year and is expected to drop further this year. Since 2010, the number of IRS audits have fallen by over 20-percent.
John Theriot, with the Louisiana CPA Society, says one reason for the drastic drop in the number of audits is money.
"The Internal Revenue Service and the federal government, they don't have the funds and they're short auditors and they're short people to go out and handle this process and training qualified people."
The IRS audited more than 162,000 fewer individual tax returns in 2014 than in 2013. Theriot says another reason for fewer audits could be that more individuals are having their taxes professionally done.
"So I think that gives a little more credibility to the return. There's also good software out there for the self preparers. The software for the self preparers ask a bunch of good questions to help them prepare better returns."
Theriot adds that tax preparation software has helped individuals file more accurate returns. He says this will probably have a bigger effect on the IRS and their ability to collect taxes from people they do audit than on the taxpayers themselves.
"I don't know that a tax payer is going to say, 'Wow, the IRS audit rate dropped a half a percent so I'm going to do something more aggressive.'"
The snow has arrived in north Louisiana and State Police urge residents to stay home and don't travel unless it's absolutely necessary. Trooper Matt Harris says if you do have to drive somewhere in areas where snow has fallen, take it easy.
"Decrease your speed, increase your following distance and allow yourself double the amount of time to get to your destination," Harris said.
Harris says there's been dozens of weather related accidents on the highways, because of the snow.
"If you are out and happen to hit a slick spot or a patch of ice, don't panic and slam on the brakes, because you will only increase your vehicle speed and run a higher chance of spinning out of control," Harris said.
He says the snow may look pretty, but it doesn't mix well with cold pavement and drivers who are NOT used to the snow.
Forecasters say as much as four inches of snow will fall north of I-20 today, while less than two inches of snow is possible south of I-20.
Viking Cruises announces they'll begin offering trips along the Mississippi River from the Port of New Orleans. The plan is to have the operation going by 2017 when two boats launch per year taking passengers on a journey upriver from The Big Easy to stops in Louisiana, Memphis, Tennessee, Minnesota and more.
"The economic impact on the city of New Orleans and the state should be really good in the sense that they will probably be spending money, staying in our hotel rooms and eating in our restaurants," says Port of New Orleans President Gary LaGrange.
The move means hundreds of jobs and a boost to the state's tourism industry according to Governor Bobby Jindal. The specialty-built riverboats will have a full complement of luxury amenities and host up to 300 passengers. LaGrange says there will be amazing itineraries planned.
"When you've got a 14,500 mile long river and it's tributaries," says Lagrange. "There are 33 states and 3 Canadian provinces that they can reach."
Viking's new service will result in the creation of 417 new direct jobs for Louisiana-based operations and vessel crews with an average salary of $40,000.
LaGrange says Viking's cruises are renowned for their locally oriented educational and entertainment programs.
He says the folklore will bring a lot to heart as the Mississippi River has a powerful history.
Today is the deadline for the three physician team to be assembled that will perform the court ordered psychiatric examination of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson in the legal fight involving his former heirs.
Legal analyst Tim Meche says doctors will first sit down with Benson and ask him questions to test his memory.
"And they'll also do a free-flowing interview. What they're not going to do, apparently, is any kind of neurological testing. I think the judge has ruled that out."
The physician team has until March 13 to report their findings. He says these examinations are meant to determine whether Benson is capable of making reasonable decisions concerning his care of his person and his property.
"Ultimately, they'll probably conclude that, yeah, he's 87-years-old, but he does have some understanding of how his businesses are run and he has assistance from people he trusts."
He says the tests will consist of a series of questions and a free-flowing interview. The physician team will consist of one doctor chosen by Benson, one by his former heirs, and one agreed upon by those two doctors. Meche says when doctors know other doctors are looking over their shoulder, it's rare for one to diverge from the group.
"Chances are they are going to have similar findings. They probably all know each other and work in the same field. So it's not going to be likely that they are going to have widely differing opinions."
The Board of Regents approved a plan which would create a uniform policy for Louisiana's colleges in how they deal with sexual assault claims. Higher education commissioner Joe Wallo says higher ed institutions have to develop a protocol to follow when someone comes forward with a sexual assault allegation.
"Who will hear that, how it will be handled, how do they make sure that the student is valued but also that everyone gets fair treatment," said Wallo.
Wallo says all of their campuses are engaging in some type of education and prevention programs with their students when it comes to sexual assault, but they wanted to work to create a common expectation.
He says they are all about letting the students know leaders are there to help and to listen.
"We want to make sure students have an avenue and can be heard," said Wall. "And if there is an issue then there are remedies and recourse."
Wallo says colleges must work with local law enforcement on response efforts and also ban retaliation against someone who files a sexual misconduct complaint. He says the policy is a process that first starts with the evaluating the complaint.
"Making sure that individual gets the type of treatment and council whether it's medical or whatever they need," said Wallo. "And that will vary by campus."
The statewide average price for a gallon of regular gasoline has reached $2.15 cents, after jumping two cents from the previous day. American Automobile Association fuel analyst Don Redman says gas prices have been on the rise for a month and it’s not a surprise.
"We anticipated that there was going to be a reversal and those prices were going to start going up as we approached March and springtime," said Redman.
The statewide average a month ago was a $1.88.
Redman says gas prices are expected to keep rising, but a return to three-dollars a gallon for gasoline is not expected.
"The springtime peak price of about $2.50 to $2.75 is probably in the forecase the coming months," said Redman.
Refineries switching from a winter grade gasoline to summer gas is one reason for the rise at the pump.
Redman says union strikes at two Louisiana refineries are also factoring into the price, but it shouldn’t lead to large price increase.
The four candidates for governor were in Shreveport for a forum today and Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne was the only candidate to come out in support of Common Core. When asked about the education standards, Dardenne said, "Now is not the time for Louisiana to retreat."
UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says this may be a good move for Dardenne right now.
"People are still in favor of Common Core statewide, even though a lot of political elites have abandoned it."
Cross says this clearly separates Dardenne from the other candidates. He says that while there is a lot of negativity around Common Core, education leaders and chambers of commerce statewide support the education standards. Cross says Dardenne is keeping his ears and mind open when it comes to this issue.
"I think he's listening to a lot of institutions and institutional power holders and is saying there are good reasons not to throw this out right now."
Cross predicts that Common Core will be one of the bigger issues during this gubernatorial election. He says this issue will be one that each candidate will have to address. Cross says Dardenne's stance on Common Core is not something that he took lightly.
"I'm sure that if Lt. Governor Dardenne strongly supportive of Common Core he has good reasons to do so and he's thought about the consequences that might occur."
Winter storm advisories remain in effect for North Louisiana, as the National Weather Service says there's the potential for 4 inches of snow to fall in parishes along the Louisiana-Arkansas border. NWS-Shreveport meteorologist Mario Valverde says it will be a our second winter weather event of the week.(photo from State Police)
"This time we're looking for north of I-20, to have more of a snow type event," says Valverde. "And further south in Louisiana more of the same type of junk we've had here with a mixture of rain, sleet and snow."
Several parishes south of I-20 are under a winter weather advisory. Valverde says, unfortunately, it doesn't look like temperatures will get too far away from freezing to melt the north Louisiana ice away.
"Still have a little ways to go before we even get up to the freezing temperature," said Valverde. "But this is a double edge sword because it's just going to melt then re-freeze."
State Alcohol and Tobacco Control agents have arrested a Campti man for allegedly running an illegal bar out of his home. 42-year-old Robert Williams was arrested and booked into the Nachitoches Parish Detention Center.
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert says the program Williams was running from his home was quite simple.
"He was taking a $20 donation at the door. So if you donated the $20, then you could come in and drink alcohol and certainly that's illegal."
Hebert says they were tipped after seeing Williams' establishment advertised on social media. He says undercover agents were able to pay to enter Williams' residence and buy beer and mixed drinks.
"He had his bar, I think he called it Unc's Place. He had a name for it, he had a sign. He thought he had a good little program going on until we got wind of it."
Williams faces charges of operating without a high-alcohol permit and operating without a low-alcohol permit. Hebert says these types of situations happen more than you would think. He says this type of illegal bar is called a "good house".
"Most of the time it's someone's home. It's in a neighborhood a lot of times. And it's just a very private place individuals can go."