ST. FRANCISVILLE — Local and state officials, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, on Monday marked the substantial completion of another project in a transportation program for economic development begun more than 20 years ago.
All four new lanes of U.S. 61 through St. Francisville and north to the Bains community are open to traffic, just weeks after the state Department of Transportation and Development opened four new lanes of the highway’s southern leg in West Feliciana Parish.
A third four-lane section of the highway from Bains to the state line opened several years ago.
The highway in Louisiana is now four lanes from just north of Baton Rouge to Mississippi, where the four-lane road continues north.
The road’s improvements through the parish are part of the state Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development program, authorized by voter approval of a 4-cents per gallon gasoline tax in 1989 during the administration of then-Gov. Buddy Roemer.
The road also connects to the TIMED program’s $408 million John James Audubon Bridge over the Mississippi River that opened in May.
Jindal joined DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LaBas in cutting a ceremonial ribbon in the middle of a northbound turning lane for traffic heading east on La. 10.
The governor said completion of the final two segments of new four-lane highway will make it easier for workers to reach Louisiana State Penitentiary, the River Bend nuclear power plant and the paper mills south of St. Francisville and help businesses along the route.
“This road also provides access to our coast for cities up in northeast Louisiana. The completion of this project will open up more of our communities and businesses to the rest of the state and the rest of the country,” he said.
The 22.1 miles of U.S. 61 in the TIMED program cost $64.8 million, including $29.5 million for the section through St. Francisville. Work on the north section began in 2001, while improvements on the other two sections began in 2008.
LeBas said the $4.6 billion TIMED program is coming to completion.
“We’ll be cutting a lot of ribbons,” she told a small audience at St. Francisville’s First Baptist Church.
With all four lanes now open, DOTD Area Engineer Chad Vosburg said, contractor JB James Construction still has a small amount of work left to complete the project.
When the contractor finishes, the department’s traffic engineers will conduct a “speed study” to determine what the safe speed limit should be for the section in town, which is now set at 35 mph.
State Rep. Tom McVea and St. Francisville Mayor Billy D’Aquilla noted that U.S. 61 from Baton Rouge to Natchez is a popular shortcut between the capital city and north Louisiana.
McVea said a colleague told him Friday, “I know you’re happy to see it finished, but you’re not any happier than me.”
D’Aquilla said he attended his first hearing on plans to widen the highway in either 1974 or 1976.
“I never thought I’d live to see it,” he joked.