In the third of three public meetings, Baton Rouge area residents said Thursday night that far more than widening Interstate 10 is needed to relieve daily traffic jams.
Building a new bridge across the Mississippi River, boosting the state sales or gasoline taxes and offering motorists faster travel lanes, if they haul multiple passengers, were among the suggestions.
Don Ortega, who lives in Baton Rouge, said quick traffic relief is needed before there is a massive wreck with multiple deaths.
“I was working at a job on the west side,” Ortega said. “I quit and took a job that paid $7 per hour less because I was spending two or three hours per day on the road,” he said.
Ortega said the state should consider raising the sales tax by a penny or the gasoline tax by 25 cents per gallon to finance specific improvements, with the tax hikes expiring on a certain date. “Something has to happen,” he said.
Residents crowded into a Baton Rouge meeting room to hear officials from the state Department of Transportation and Development discuss congestion, and possible solutions, between the I-10 bridge and the I-10/12 split.
DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas says one of the key options under review is to add a new lane in each direction along the 4-mile corridor at a cost of up to $350 million.
How the improvements would be financed — always a huge hurdle — was among the array of questions.
State officials have stressed that widening I-10 is no traffic panacea but one of several steps that can ease the life of the motorist.
Larry LeJeune, who lives in Baton Rouge, said aside from improving I-10, the area needs a loop around town.
“Something needs to be done ASAP,” LeJeune said. “Should have been done 20 years ago.”
Ted Donaldson, a lifelong resident of the capital city, said multiple steps are needed. “First thing we ought to do is use the interstate as an interstate, not for local traffic,” Donaldson said.
However, he said he is not optimistic that much will come out of the state’s study of traffic needs. “The state won’t spend the money,” Donaldson said.
Leaders of the project team said doing nothing means driving around Baton Rouge will get lots more complicated.
Traffic along the corridor between the bridge and the split is expected to rise 30 percent by 2032, said Alison Catarella-Michel, a traffic engineer with URBAN Systems Inc.
About 150,000 cars and trucks per day use the corridor now.
During the same time, congestion — rides of 25 mph or less — will double, and travel times will shoot up by 80 percent for some motorists, she said.
“In sum, doing nothing is not an option,” Catarella-Michel said.
Jonathan Appling, who lives in Walker, echoed the view that a wider I-10 is not the only answer.
“There needs to be something else, not just widening lanes,” Appling said. “There needs to be an additional bridge or a loop or a bypass.”
DOTD officials are studying the impact of erecting a new bridge south of the I-10 Mississippi River bridge. It would cost an estimated $800 million, and a bid to fund just such a plan died in the Legislature earlier this year.
Others said any state improvement plan should try to change driving habits.
Jeanne George, who lives in Baton Rouge, questioned whether the state plans to designate high occupancy vehicle — HOV — lanes for cars and trucks carrying several passengers.
Those lanes typically move traffic faster than those occupied by vehicles with one or two people.
“We have to do something to change how people use the interstate,” George said, emphasizing that she is not opposed to widening I-10.
The meeting was the third hosted by DOTD officials this week on widening I-10 and other possible modifications, including making changes around the Washington Street exit, moving the exit north of the current one to ease traffic congestion and erecting noise walls.
About 180 people appeared at the meeting Monday night at the Baton Rouge River Center, according to DOTD officials
Around 200 were on hand for the gathering Tuesday night at the Port Allen Community Center.
The gathering on Thursday night included former DOTD Secretary William Ankner.
LeBas’ proposal is the third of its kind offered by state officials since 2000.
The initial one — the price tag was about $200 million — died amid criticism from business operators in the Perkins Road Overpass area and political opposition.
LeBas reopened the topic in 2011 but dropped it one year later amid cost and other concerns.
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