The multibillion-dollar Baton Rouge Loop project is on track and moving forward, Mayor-President Kip Holden said Monday after a meeting of the Capital Area Expressway Authority.
“This project is not dead by any stretch of the imagination,” Holden said. “We’re still on track for what we had originally proposed.”
The loop is a proposed 85-mile toll road surrounding Baton Rouge that supporters say will alleviate traffic problems.
Last year, the loop project took multiple blows when three of the five parish presidents serving on the authority’s board of directors — Ascension’s Tommy Martinez, Livingston’s Mike Grimmer and Iberville’s J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. — resigned.
A few months later, Gov. Bobby Jindal used his line-item veto to delete $5 million of state spending.
Mike Bruce, managing principal of ABMB Engineers which is one of the lead firms on the loop project, said it’s unclear if the loss of state money affected the timeline.
He said the authority is still in the process of obtaining a “Record of Decision,” or permit, from the Federal Highway Administration to move forward.
A lack of available funding prevented the authority from being able to expedite the process this summer, but Bruce said he is hopeful the permit will be issued before year’s end.
At that point, the authority will attempt to sign a private partner for the project.
“Once you have the Record of Decision, private partners know that this can be a reality so they’ll be ready to step forward,” said Bryan Harmon, deputy public works director.
Bruce said in the short term, the authority is looking for a private partner for the first phase of the project which is the 25-mile northern bypass costing $750 million.
He said there has already been some investment interest from international firms.
Bruce said there may be public perception the project is dead because of slow progress.
“It’s a long process and there’s been some vocal opposition that puts it in a light that it’s not moving forward,” he said.
But Bruce said “if everything goes well,” the project could prepare to break ground within three years.