Busy intersection may get roundabout _lowres

Map of proposed roundabout

State highway officials are mulling a new double-lane roundabout on La. 22 at La. 70 in Sorrento as one of two options to better move traffic through the key intersection for Mississippi River plant traffic.

Whether through the roundabout or another reconfiguration of the intersection, highway officials want to allow continuous flow of traffic turning from La. 22 onto La. 70, and vice versa, a state Department of Transportation and Development spokeswoman said Monday.

Along a short stretch of La. 70 between the intersection and Interstate 10, DOTD is also looking at installing raised medians and left-turn lanes, known as J-turns, to control where drivers turn across La. 70 traffic.

Handling nearly 23,000 vehicles per day, the intersection and the nearby section of La. 70 are an important choke point for commuters and 18-wheelers getting off I-10 in Sorrento headed to chemical plants along the Mississippi River, including CF Industries and Mosaic Co. facilities near Donaldsonville and the Motiva Enterprises refinery near Convent.

The La. 22/La. 70 intersection has a blinking, overhead traffic light, which can lead to backups as vehicles that have just left I-10 try to make a left turn from La. 22 onto La. 70.

Eastbound and westbound traffic on La. 70 between the intersection and I-10 interchange is not regulated by traffic lights or other controls. Vehicles making left turns into truck stops, a McDonald’s and other businesses along La. 70 often must battle heavy, oncoming traffic on La. 70.

The concept comes as the Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions , a lobbying group for the Baton Rouge region’s industries, has formed to press the gubernatorial candidates and legislators to commit to investment in the region’s road grid.

While the group is more focused on broad, regional solutions, Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of CRISIS, said several of his group’s members are located in Ascension’s industrial sector and want to see innovations started to provide traffic relief, almost regardless of what they are.

“People have got to be bullish in whatever they do to fix these problems,” Kirkpatrick said.

DOTD officials said the concept, estimated to cost $2.5 million to $5 million, is still in the early planning stages and nearly two-and-a-half years from going to bid for construction, in March 2018.

A decision also has not been made between either of the two options for the La. 70/La. 22 intersection.

“It’s definitely still too early to decide,” said Anastasia Semien, DOTD spokeswoman.

But, earlier this month, Ascension Parish officials said the state had gotten buy-in from surrounding truck stops and other businesses for a roundabout.

Ascension Parish chief engineer Joey Tureau told the Parish Council Transportation Committee Oct. 13 that DOTD held a meeting on the roundabout and the related improvements on La. 70 and received a generally positive reception.

“There were some merchants in the area that were there and they seemed to be on board with it,” Tureau told the committee.

He said the roundabout, which is a circular intersection with no traffic lights and controlled access, would be able to handle 18-wheelers.

Pete Graffagnino, comptroller for Roland J. Robert Distributor Inc., which owns a Chevron truck stop near the intersection, called the situation along La. 70 in front of the store “wide-open chaos.”

He said he and his competitors, who also attended the DOTD meeting, believe a roundabout would improve the situation. He added that he doesn’t think the roundabout would hurt their business either.

But he said they were concerned about J-turns that would force traffic to make a U-turn back toward their businesses. Graffagnino said he would like to see the J-turns line up with the driveway to their businesses.

“Customers don’t have the brand loyalty they had 20 years ago. They have loyalty to price and convenience. That is why it is important to us,” he said.

In detailing DOTD’s plans earlier this month, Tureau described the roundabout as the second phase of the project. The first phase would add a second continuous-flow right-turn lane from La. 70 northbound onto La. 22 eastbound toward I-10.

The second right-turn lane would be built while DOTD also builds the J-turns, Tureau said.

But Semien said the continuous-flow turn lane and the roundabout were actually the two separate options being considered for the intersection.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.