PORT ALLEN — The West Baton Rouge Parish Council pledged Thursday night to put up the $1.4 million it will take to secure state and federal funding needed to push the proposed La. 1/La. 415 connector project into the final stages of development.
The $1.4 million from the parish would serve as the matching funds to an 80/20 grant from the Capital Region Planning Commission, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, and U.S. Federal Highway Administration.
Kevin Durbin, director of the parish's public works department, told council members the parish has submitted an application to the state in hopes of securing the additional $7 million to draft final construction plans for the project, which has been gestating for more than a decade.
"They need a resolution committing this body to the 20 percent match if we are awarded, which we won't know until probably January," Durbin said.
Parish President Riley "Pee Wee" Berthelot has spent nearly 10 years trying to secure state funding for the connector project. Local officials have said the need has escalated over the years as traffic woes throughout the Baton Rouge region continue to intensify.
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The daily traffic issues plaguing much of East Baton Rouge Parish have spilled across the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge into West Baton Rouge causing constant traffic snarls along La. 1 South in Port Allen.
It has become common for traffic along La. 1 to stretch almost to the Brusly town limits as cars line up waiting to cross the bridge and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The connector route would create an alternative route for drivers trying to migrate between the northern and southern corners of the parish.
Preliminary plans involve building a four-lane toll road linking La. 415 to La. 1 in Port Allen. The route, which would also require the construction of a new bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway, has an estimated price tag of $125 million.
But Berthelot said Thursday there has been talk of reducing the proposed connector route from four lanes to two in order to lower the costs because the likelihood of getting federal money to pay for it could take years given the country's financial straits.
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That news didn't set well with Council Chairman Garry Spillman.
"Two lanes to me sounds like we're going backwards instead of forward," he said. "If it costs more, that's OK. Let's not try and follow the same thing the state does and build things for 1950 instead of 2017."
Councilman Barry Hugghins expressed similar sentiments.
"Of course I understand we can only get what we can pay for," he said. "I think we need to plan for the future."