A meeting this week about a Pecue Lane and Interstate 10 interchange has triggered some lawmakers to race to find tens of millions of dollars for the project, which is slated to start construction in May 2017.
State Rep. Darrell Ourso, R-Baton Rouge, sent a letter to incoming Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne this week with a request for $36 million from the Legislature’s capital outlay bill. He and others say they expect the Capital Region Legislative Delegation to be a unified force when pushing for the road project money.
The interchange has been in planning for about a decade, and $20 million has been set aside for it. The junction is expected to provide relief to the often-congested Highland Road and Siegen Lane and traffic going southeast toward Ascension Parish.
Green Light Plan Program Manager Jonathan Charbonnet said the report that first called for the interchange in 2008 will expire in spring 2017, which is why construction needs to start by then.
If the funding to make up the shortfall is not in place by the deadline, traffic engineers will have to modify a decade’s worth of work on the interchange, which will delay it even further. Ourso and others are trying to ensure that does not happen.
But all bets are off when asking for money from the deficit-riddled state.
“It’s still early in our study of the 2016 executive budget and capital outlay, so it would be premature to speak to the merits or funding possibilities of any particular project,” Dardenne said in a statement. “However, we are certainly aware that this project is a critical component of traffic relief on I-10.”
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said lawmakers likely will not decide on whether they can give the money to the interchange until the final few days of the 2016 legislative session. He said the project has been on his priority list for years.
Claitor said $36 million is a steep amount of money to request, but that it’s understandable for an important road improvement. He said people leading less important initiatives in his eyes have asked for more money, like when the Baton Rouge Area Foundation last year requested $40 million for a project to revitalize the LSU lakes.
The money for the interchange will be on the chopping block at many points in the future. Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards can veto funding for any project, and the members of the Louisiana House and Senate also get their say before the bill goes to the bond commission for approval.
“Anything’s possible, but as far as keeping the project going forward, I don’t know that it needs $36 million in cash,” Claitor said, noting that it would be easier to give some cash to the interchange now and extend a line of credit for more money in the future. “… That’s a large sum, but we’ve seen it placed on projects that don’t have as much support.”
It’s also possible that other sources of funding will open up, aside from capital outlay money. Shawn Wilson, the newly named secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development, said earlier in the week that DOTD might be able to pitch in as well.
Ourso’s time in the legislature is coming to an end, as he was defeated this fall by fellow Republican Rick Edmonds. Ourso said he will advocate for the interchange even when he is no longer in the legislature.
“I will certainly keep the pressure on the people who I communicate with and who will listen to me,” Ourso said.
Edmonds said he will also make the interchange a priority.
He said it’s especially important to alleviate traffic in that part of the city-parish because of the new Woman’s Hospital off Pecue Lane and other development coming to the area.
The next public hearing on the project is scheduled for January 28. It’s likely to be the final public hearing on the interchange, as residents will get the chance to see the chosen diverging diamond design of the interchange and weigh in on it.