Planners who are looking at ways to improve traffic flow in the south Baton Rouge health district are proposing building a new north-south road between Bluebonnet Boulevard and Essen Lane that would link Perkins Road to Interstate 10.
Along with the new street, dubbed “Midway Boulevard” because of its location between the two major thoroughfares, other ideas unveiled to the public at a meeting Tuesday evening included building a new frontage road along I-10 and extending streets such as Dijon Drive and Summa Avenue. This would create another major east-west street in the Essen Lane-Bluebonnet Boulevard-Perkins Road area to go along with Picardy Avenue.
John Spain, Baton Rouge Area Foundation executive vice president, said there are no dollar figures for how much the road construction will cost, because it’s so early in the process and no land has been acquired. BRAF is overseeing the development of a master plan for the Essen-Bluebonnet-Perkins corridor, and Tuesday’s meeting gave the public a chance to get its first look at potential transportation changes and give their comments.
“If there were any easy solutions to the transportation issues, they would have been done a long time ago,” Spain said. “But we have a half-dozen or so ideas and all of them are doable.”
The medical corridor was identified as a key district in need of redevelopment in the FutureBR comprehensive plan that was established in 2011. Since January, consultants with Perkins+Will have been getting comments from key stakeholders, such as Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, General Health Systems, Woman’s Hospital, Ochsner Medical Center, Pennington Biomedical Research Center and The Neuromedical Center.
A public hearing was held in September so people who live and work in the district could give their input on traffic issues in the area. Those comments were used by consultants in developing the road proposals.
Spain said the next step is to record the comments from Tuesday’s meeting and use that to fine-tune plans. A list of recommendations should be released by January and February.
Some of the components of the health district could include a four-year medical school and a nationally recognized clinical research center for diabetes and obesity, playing off research currently being done at Pennington.
The health district could begin to take shape in early 2015, when a board made up of representatives from all the major medical players in the area is formed. Spain said the CEOs of the key groups have agreed to joining together to talk about key issues.
David Green, a principal with Perkins+Will, said representatives from OLOL and Baton Rouge General have agreed on the need to reduce traffic on Bluebonnet and Essen in order to make it easier to move around the area.
“They’re not thinking about streets as individual issues, but as a comprehensive issue,” he said.
The goal of the traffic plan isn’t to push congestion into other parts of the city, but to create an overall system that works better, said Joel Mann, an associate with NelsonNygaard, a transportation planning firm with offices in Atlanta.
“We want to have less concentrated demand on the roadway network,” he said.
Lisa Ferrell, who works for the Pathology Group of Louisiana, which has an office between Essen and Perkins, said she thought the proposals for new roads were “wonderful” and a “long time coming.”
“Baton Rouge traffic is horrendous. I have children in Houston and I would rather drive in Houston,” Ferrell said. “At least Houston moves. Baton Rouge traffic becomes a parking lot.”
Ferrell said the traffic problems have caused problems at her workplace because couriers with specimens headed to the Pathology Group’s lab have gotten stuck in their cars on Essen Lane. “Sometimes time is of the essence,” she said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.