With O'Neal Lane expansion beginning, what's next big project to ease Baton Rouge traffic? _lowres

 

As part of an effort to open up more north-south traffic corridors in East Baton Rouge, construction crews will begin Thursday widening a new stretch of O’Neal Lane.

The road was widened to four lanes between Interstate 12 to South Harrell’s Ferry Road a few years ago. Now, authorities plan to extend the four-lane design farther south to George O’Neal Road.

The project will also add a raised median, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and underground pipes to replace open ditches, according to a program manager and a city news release.

Construction is expected to last through November 2017, consultant Anita Byrne wrote in an email.

The city’s release states the work will cost $19 million, but several people involved in the project, including Jonathan Charbonnet, program manager for the city-parish’s Green Light Plan, said $14 million is a more reasonable and up-to-date estimate.

The Green Light Plan pays for road improvements throughout East Baton Rouge Parish. It is funded through a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2005. Some projects, such as work on state routes, get a boost from federal money, but the upcoming work on O’Neal will be paid entirely with local funding, Charbonnet said.

Plan leaders are also hoping to conclude a few projects in the beginning of 2016, such as the replacement of Fairchild-Badley Road, which is gaining curbs, gutters and sidewalks, according to Charbonnet and the Green Light Plan website. The program manager hopes to hold the official ribbon-cutting next month.

With construction on O’Neal resuming, the Green Light Plan may next begin work on the Picardy-Perkins Connector, Charbonnet said. The plan is to build a route to link Perkins Road to the Interstate 10 Interchange at Picardy Avenue, thus easing traffic on Bluebonnet Boulevard.

The current O’Neal widening represents the final phase in establishing north-south routes from Nicholson Drive to Hooper Road, the city’s news release states. With the population growth, especially following Hurricane Katrina, locals and commuters need alternatives to the highways, Charbonnet said.

Since the sales tax was passed in 2005, the Green Light Plan has completed about 70 percent of its projects, he noted. Technically, the tax doesn’t directly pay for road improvements; instead it repays bonds issued to fund the work. Charbonnet estimated about $350 million in bonds have been issued for various projects, including $40 million issued last year.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.