The state’s latest plan to widen Interstate 10 through the heart of Baton Rouge is sparking opposition, skepticism and a smattering of wait and see.
“It’s still a bad idea, absolutely,” said Troy Menier, whose family has operated Troy’s Barber Shop a few yards off Perkins Road by the interstate for nearly half a century.
Irma Jones took a break from her exercise class at the Leo S. Butler Community Center to criticize the state’s proposal.
Under the plan, a new lane in each direction would be added to I-10 between the bridge and the I-10/12 split at a cost of up to $350 million.
Jones said she remembers how homeowners were uprooted when the interstate went up in the 1960s.
“It is always through the neighborhoods with the people that can’t afford the move,” she said. “I think the inner city has been affected as much as it can.”
The issue stems from a proposal by Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas.
The aim is to improve traffic in a state capital where gridlock, and complaints about it, is daily fare.
LeBas repeatedly has said that if any plan moves forward, it will be sensitive to businesses in the Perkins Road overpass area, the neighborhoods around the Washington Street exit and elsewhere along the 4-mile corridor.
The DOTD chief proposed a similar plan in 2011.
She dropped it one year later, calling the effort “a very expensive endeavor.”
Before that, a $200 million widening push by DOTD gained traction for a while in the early 2000s but eventually died.
LeBas said she is holding three hearings to gather public input on the expansion idea.
The first will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at the Baton Rouge River Center.
The second will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Port Allen Community Center.
The final gathering is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Broome, a Democrat who is running for Baton Rouge mayor-president, said the issue deserves to be aired as part of a hunt for consensus.
“It is the topic of discussion almost anytime you go somewhere,” Broome said of traffic headaches. “If Sherri and her team have found that perhaps widening the expressway would be one way to offer some relief, I believe we need to give it consideration.”
Menier is just as opposed now as he was four years ago.
“All the restaurants and businesses would be devastated,” he said.
“The second reason is Baton Rouge already has enough traffic,” Menier said. “Put in more lanes, and it will have more traffic.”
Evelyn Haney, who was in the same exercise class as Jones, said she was raised near the site of the Leo S. Butler Community Center and the interstate “came through our front porch.
“I would hate to see that happen again,” Haney said. “It did affect a lot of people.”
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, whose legislative district includes the Washington Street area, said fear of home loss is a recurring theme when officials talk about expanding the interstate. “The whole problem is going to boil down to displacement of people,” she said.
“A lot of the folks in the area have been there for years, decades, I should say,” Smith said. “It is a matter of how do you feasibly do this.”
Danell Cortez, who runs the Jimmy John’s on Perkins Road, has the same concern about her 7-year-old sandwich shop.
“For lack of a better word, it sucks,” Cortez said of interstate expansion talks.
Alison Edginton, general manager of Schlittz & Giggles, which is nearly under I-10 off Perkins, said she is not concerned yet that any big expansion is in the works.
Wait and see, she said.
How the state would come up with $350 million to add the new lanes is unclear.
LeBas said it could be financed in stages of $30 million to $50 million from a variety of funding sources.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, has questioned that approach and said cheaper short-term fixes need to move ahead while new lanes are discussed.
Others questioned how much relief expanding I-10 would provide.
“A permanent solution in my mind is we need another bridge in this city to the south, downriver,” said state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.
Haney made a similar point.
“I don’t think it will help the traffic in this area,” she said. “The only thing that will help is a loop.”
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