Essen Lane, notorious for its nightmarish traffic, is about to undergo changes meant to alleviate some of the bottlenecks near its connection with Interstate 10.
But the construction also means that the already busy street could become even more crowded during the months of construction work — including for drivers heading to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. The emergency room at OLOL is expected to take in more patients following this week’s closure of the emergency room at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City.
Changes to the Essen and I-10 area are beginning now, while the actual widening of Essen with an additional lane is expected to go to bid for construction in autumn of 2016. The widening was delayed after initial plans to start work in summer 2014.
Mayor-President Kip Holden, Louisiana Department of Transportation Sherri H. LeBas and other city-parish officials and community leaders held a groundbreaking for the project at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Burden Museum and Gardens on Essen Lane.
Essen sees 55,000 vehicles a day, so the road improvements are badly needed. But it could add to the traffic woes drivers face on Essen while the construction is going on — including for emergency vehicles trying to reach OLOL.
“Any major construction on Essen could affect our units’ ability to enter and exit the Emergency Department at OLOL,” said EMS spokesman Michael Chustz. “Hopefully, the construction process can be done without any major delays in EMS routes to and from OLOL.”
Our Lady of the Lake confirmed that they have been active participants in the discussions about the roadway changes. Spokeswoman Kelly Zimmerman said they will work with DOTD to continue to ensure “minimal disruption.”
She also said that OLOL so far hasn’t seen an increase in emergency room patients since Tuesday’s closure of Baton Rouge General’s Mid City ER.
DOTD spokeswoman Indira Parrales said DOTD plans to maintain access to the hospital during construction and “at this time, doesn’t foresee any access issues or any disruption during construction.”
Chustz said EMS has been notified about the project and is making plans to adjust its travel routes to any roadwork.
The first phase of the project will add two additional turn lanes onto I-10 to allow dual left turns for both southbound and northbound Essen Lane. Right now, Essen Lane has one entrance and exit ramp for I-10 and this project will add another on- and off-ramp.
Construction on the lane and ramp additions should start in June and is expected to take about six months.
Workers will also add one lane to the I-10 intersection of Essen Lane and Essen Park Avenue and widen the Ward Creek bridge. In addition, they will move utility locations from Perkins Road to Wards Creek.
The process is already underway, and the work is expected to be finished by late winter of 2016.
Once the utilities have been moved, the second phase of the project and widening of Essen Lane will begin.
Essen will go from its current five-lane structure to a six-lane roadway with a continuous, two-way center turn lane wedged in the middle. The sixth lane will be on the opposite side of the road from Our Lady of the Lake, where Essen intersects with Anselmo Lane and Mancuso Lane.
The widening will stretch about one mile from Perkins Road to I-10. That part of the construction should be finished by winter 2018.
“During construction, DOTD will maintain access to the businesses along Essen Lane,” Parrales said. “The only impacts DOTD foresees is the possible relocation of some business signs which are located inside the proposed right-of-way.”
Overall, the road construction is expected to cost more than $14 million. The project is split between the city-parish Green Light Plan and the state.
Sales tax dollars generated via the city-parish’s Green Light Plan will pay for $2.1 million for the first phase of the project, while the rest of the project is expected to cost around $12 million of state money.