Holden points to Green Light Plan road improvements in East Baton Rouge Parish as one of his proudest accomplishments as mayor-president _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Looking west on Pecue Lane as that traffic travels eastbound with I-10 west traffic zipping through on the down low.

East Baton Rouge Parish has invested more than $700 million into construction projects aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving connectivity across the parish since 2006.

The end of 2015 marks 10 full years of work on Mayor-President Kip Holden’s Green Light Plan, the half-cent sales tax funded, voter-approved road program passed by voters during Holden’s first year in office.

The Green Light Plan consists of 45 projects that are expected to be finished by 2030, when the tax sunsets. As of this year, almost 70 percent of projects are completely finished.

Holden, who is in the final year of his last mayoral term, said the road program was desperately needed and is one of his proudest accomplishments in office.

“When you inherit an office and it’s been 60 years since major construction was done, we had to go in and make it a priority,” Holden said. “We’ve gone in and put down a lot of roads and turning lanes. It’s been fantastic.”

Traffic has for years been a top complaint of Baton Rouge residents. Holden said the Green Light Plan is making an impact but will not solve all of the problems.

He said it’s entirely possible tax payers would be asked by a future administration to extend the program. But he noted that a decision shouldn’t be made until after the current program is finished.

One of the overarching goals of the Green Light Plan has been to create a north-south corridor that serves as an alternative to the heavily congested interstate. About $273 million will be spent for the corridor in total, which includes projects stretching from Hooper and Sullivan roads in Central — like the completed Central Thruway, which is one of the program’s most expensive projects to date at $69 million — to the southern part of the parish creating connections from O’Neal Lane all the way south to Pecue Lane.

“Obviously, we have huge congestion on the interstate,” said Jonathan Charbonnet, Green Light Plan program manager, who works with the Baton Rouge-based engineering and architectural firm CSRS, Inc. “We are trying to create alternate routes to get people to Central or some of the northern communities.”

Engineers predict the completion of the corridor will divert nearly 30,000 vehicles away from the most heavily trafficked roads in the parish including Bluebonnet Boulevard, Siegen Lane, Highland Road, Airline Highway and Tiger Bend Road.

The program is primarily funded via the half-cent sales tax. To expedite the pace of the work, the city-parish initially issued more than $300 million in bonds to pay for the construction. Early this year, the city-parish refinanced the bonds at a lower interest rate, generating an additional $40 million for projects. Those dollars made available this year were critical in moving up the construction schedule for a handful of projects, some by as much as six years.

To date, all of the bonded money has been obligated, but roughly $150 million must still be identified to finish the slate of projects.

That means project managers and city-parish officials will be looking for state and federal dollars to close the gap.

Charbonnet said they feel strong about their ability to leverage additional grants. They recently secured about $18 million in federal dollars for a project planned for Old Hammond Highway, which hasn’t started construction yet.

The most urgent project, and a 2016 priority, will be the Pecue Lane at Interstate 10 interchange. That project must start construction by spring 2017 or else a decade’s worth of planning will expire and have to be restarted, costing even more money.

Charbonnet said they are hopeful the state will appropriate the necessary $36 million to move the project forward this year. The junction is designed to provide relief on Highland Road and Siegen Lane going southeast toward Ascension Parish.

Another major project in 2016 will be providing a connection from Perkins Road to the Picardy Avenue/Interstate 10 interchange. The new roadway will start at Perkins between Wimbledon Subdivision and Perkins Rowe and connect to the Mall of Louisiana, providing a four-lane alternative route to I-10 and Perkins.

“That will be huge because it will draw traffic off of Bluebonnet, and Bluebonnet is at capacity right now,” Charbonnet said.

There are at least two scheduled ribbon cuttings for projects coming to a close in 2016. The project extending Sullivan Road from the Central Thruway to Wax Road is nearing its end. Another project to replace Fairchild-Badley Road, adding curbs and sidewalks, will also be finished early in the year.

Charbonnet said drivers can expect a slow and steady stream of construction on parish roads moving forward. A few years ago, the city-parish was inundated with active construction projects because the program was flush with money.

“The Green Light Plan is still very active,” he said. “The funds of yesterday aren’t there, but there’s still a lot of activity. We’re very active in trying to secure federal funds, and we’ve been successful so far in doing so.”

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.