In about two weeks, getting from LSU to downtown Baton Rouge should be a little easier.
St. Ferdinand and St. Louis streets, which are both one-way streets downtown on either side of the courthouse, are being converted to two-way streets, providing an uninterrupted north-south connection between the two destinations, via Nicholson Drive and Highland Road.
Previously, southbound drivers on Highland Road were diverted through Beauregard Town if they were headed downtown.
The $1.1 million project is about seven years in the making, but it received official approval in 2010.
The primary cost of the project was to add traffic lights on North Boulevard and to make additions to the existing traffic signals on Government Street.
What initially seemed like a relatively simple change has dragged out for years. Last April, Department of Public Works leaders said the project would be finished before fall 2014.
St. Ferdinand Street will open in both directions first, on March 14. St. Louis Street will follow March 21.
“Whenever you change a roadway in an urban area, you have to do a lot of analysis,” said Davis Rhorer, Downtown Development District executive director, explaining some of the delays. “If you change one street, it affects the traffic on 10 other streets.”
Reconfiguring the entrances and exits for the River Center parking garages to accommodate the new traffic flow also contributed to the delays.
The east River Center garage will have entrance points on both St. Louis and St. Ferdinand, and the west River Center garage will still have one entrance on St. Louis Street.
Rhorer said the additional access point, and allowing drivers to access the garages from both directions, will decrease the amount of traffic that builds up on Government Street when events come to the River Center.
There are about 1,500 parking spaces in the two garages.
Rhorer said he doesn’t expect traffic to increase dramatically on the streets as a result of the change, particularly on St. Louis Street because it ends at North Boulevard in the Town Square.
St. Ferdinand, however, will create a direct line from LSU to the State Capitol, which could increase traffic. St. Ferdinand turns into Highland Road to the south and Fourth Street to the north.
He also noted that the change gives residents living in Old South Baton Rouge and Beauregard Town, neighborhoods that had previously lamented access to a nearby supermarket, a quicker route to the new Matherne’s grocery store, which opened in January.