PORT ALLEN — As daily congestion along La. 1 and the Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 10 continues to infuriate drivers sitting in traffic, West Baton Rouge Parish officials received word recently that some relief is on the way.
But it’s not necessarily the kind of big state commitment they ultimately want.
In a July 10 letter to the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development informed school leaders its traffic engineers are working on a comprehensive review of signal timing throughout the La. 1 corridor.
The letter also says DOTD has expanded its Baton Rouge Regional Motorists Assistance Patrol and Tow program into certain sectors of West Baton Rouge to more quickly deal with some of the stalled vehicles and wrecks that DOTD officials feel contribute to much of the daily congestion.
The program’s expansion includes La. 1 between U.S. 190 and the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge and La. 415 between U.S. 190 and I-10.
Officials with DOTD were responding to pressure from the West Baton Rouge Parish School Board, which has urged the state to address the growing traffic along the popular thoroughfare.
The School Board on May 21 unanimously adopted a resolution asking the school superintendent to contact DOTD about the issue.
“A lot of the concern for us was with our school buses,” board President Jason Manola said. “We have buses traveling the north and south end of the parish, and a lot of time they have trouble dropping kids off on time because of the afternoon congestion.”
Manola said the daily traffic frustrations also pose safety concerns should any type of emergency arise at a school along La. 1.
“If a child required medical attention, it would be kind of hard to get to them, especially around 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon,” he said.
The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board joins a growing list of government entities and local businesses in the parish that are pleading with the state to focus on the issue. They are looking for the state to go big on fixing traffic problems around Port Allen with major infrastructure investments.
Two measures gained approval from state lawmakers during the most recent legislative session — both of which involve feasibility studies related to the La. 1 traffic problems. One study, which is close to moving forward, would look at the development of a four-lane highway between Interstate 10 near Port Allen and La. 1 south of Plaquemine that has been called both “the West Bank Connector” and “the West Side Expressway.”
Another component of this is looking at the feasibility of building a bridge over the Mississippi River that would connect La. 1 and La. 30 — most likely in Iberville Parish.
“Everybody is starting to get the picture,” Manola said. “It’s not only a safety hazard, but at some point, for the economic development to continue happening in the parish, it will need to be addressed. And it’s not just a parish problem; it’s a regional problem.”
Manola said West Baton Rouge Parish officials will meet with DOTD officials this week.
For now, though, DOTD officials said they believe the measures along La. 1 will provide relief.
DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett said the signal timing study will help engineers determine what improvements can be made to facilitate better traffic flow and encourage drivers to use the U.S. 190 bridge as an alternate route.
“Increasing the amount of vehicles using the Highway 190 bridge will decrease the number of travelers using the I-10 bridge,” Mallet said in an email.
Expanding the motorists assistance patrol and towing program will increase safety along La. 1 by not only moving vehicles off the highway, but by using flashing lights to notify oncoming traffic about an incident, he said.
DOTD’s letter to the School Board also says a project to improve communications and notify motorists of expected travel times will be implemented in August.
“This will include the installation of traffic cameras and Variable Message Signs along La. 1 Northbound to provide monitoring capabilities for better incident detection and management,” the letter states.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.