After years on the drawing board, the Government Street road diet finally has a groundbreaking date.

City and local officials met with contractors Wednesday morning and agreed to begin construction Jan. 8, said Fred Raiford, the city-parish director of transportation and drainage.

Crews can start staging equipment next week but will hold off on tearing up the road until after the holidays, he continued.

The road diet is intended to slim the four-lane thoroughfare to three lanes — two travel lanes and a center turning lane — along most of its stretch between Interstate 110 and Lobdell Boulevard. The portion between North Foster and Jefferson will remain four lanes. There will also be a new roundabout at the juncture of Government and Lobdell. 

Trimming the road is intended to allow space for sidewalks, bike lanes and trees. Officials have said they are trying to emulate the feel of Magazine Street in New Orleans.

One feature has not made it into designs: bus pull-outs for the Capital Area Transit System. On Wednesday, CATS spokeswoman Amie McNaylor said the agency is still talking with the state and the city-parish but nothing has been finalized. Raiford said authorities are investigating whether any property owners might sell or donate land where buses can pull off the road to load and unload passengers.

When work on the road diet begins, crews will start by removing asphalt along the outside lanes near downtown, and construction will move along from west to east, Raiford said. The project is scheduled to last 380 contractor days, or about a year and a half of total time, he said.

Barber Bros. won the contract with an $11.2 million bid, according to Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development records. Once the project is complete, the city-parish will take over maintenance of Government Street. It's part of an ongoing deal in which East Baton Rouge is assuming responsibility for approximately 98 miles of state roads in exchange for nearly $72 million in DOTD credit.

Raiford, who took over city-parish transportation since the deal was signed under former Mayor-President Kip Holden, said he's not sure he would have taken on so many miles, but he's trying to oversee the transfer as best as he can.

The city-parish has already taken over some roads like Perkins and Drusilla, though the entire hand-off could take a decade, since the state is required to get routes in good repair before East Baton Rouge assumes maintenance of them.

The city-parish has spent about $5 million of their credit line on road overlay projects on Nicholson Drive and the roads around the Water Campus. Raiford said he's working to determine how much money may be available every year to plan how the rest is spent. For example: whether sufficient DOTD credit would be available should the city-parish tap it for a big project like the proposed Interstate 10 interchange at Pecue Lane.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.