Baton Rouge's traffic gridlock an unlikely statewide issue in Louisiana governor's race _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Mid-afternoon traffic on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge, connecting Baton Rouge and Port Allen via I-10, backs up as drivers anticipate heading east at the I-10/I-110 split, Friday, Apr. 24, 2015. Traffic gridlock in Baton Rouge has suddenly morphed into a statewide issue, with every contender for governor rolling out a plan and some even bickering over how to repair a problem exit on Interstate 10.

The state collected nearly 14,000 public comments on how to improve traffic on Interstate 10 between the I-10 bridge and Essen Lane, officials said Tuesday.

The study is part of a review costing up to $2 million being conducted by the state Department of Transportation and Development.

One of the surveys was done online.

Hard copies were also available at public libraries in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes and mailed to the project team.

The state accepted the input from April 22 until June 15.

The final tally was about 13,800, said Rodney Mallet, chief spokesman for DOTD.

State officials next month are set to offer concepts on how to improve near-daily traffic jams on and near the bridge.

State budget problems mean any sweeping proposals are likely years away.

However, DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas said last month her agency is studying the possibility of reworking traffic lanes near the Washington Street exit, which is one of the sources of the backups.

A short stretch near the exit narrows to one lane, sparking delays when motorists try to move out of the Washington Street exit lane into the I-10 east lane.

One option being studied by DOTD would carve out an additional eastbound lane from the bridge to beyond the often congested exit.

That would ensure two eastbound lanes leaving the bridge and two other lanes on southbound I-110.

Sixth District Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, has met with DOTD officials and told reporters last month the exit needs immediate attention.

DOTD officials are also considering the creation of a new, earlier exit off of I-110 South to get to Washington Street.

About 102,000 cars and trucks used the bridge daily in 2013, a rise of 33 percent since 1998.

Efforts to boost state aid for roads and bridges, including construction of a new bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, failed during the 2015 Legislature.

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