Complaints about daily backups on the Interstate 10 Mississippi River Bridge surfaced repeatedly Thursday during the final stop of state hearings on local road and highway needs.
West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot said he often hears gripes about bridge traffic.
“They ask me, ‘When are you going to fix the bridge?’ ” Berthelot said.
Berthelot said a Dow Chemical plant is preparing to add about 2,000 employees to its workforce.
“I don’t know how we are going to handle them,” Berthelot said. “We can’t handle them now.”
The issue surfaced during the last stop on the annual “road show” by the Louisiana House and Senate transportation committees and top officials of the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The dozen or so gatherings across the state are held to let local officials and residents air their views on highway and bridge needs.
The bridge has gained national notoriety as the one spot on a 2,460-mile-coast-to-coast interstate that narrows to a single lane just east of the structure near the Washington Street exit.
More than 102,000 cars and trucks cross the bridge daily.
DOTD officials have said that, during the month of July, lane closures on or near the bridge rose by 50 percent.
Efforts to widen I-10 between the bridge and the I-10/12 split — the site of near-daily backups — have failed amid financial and political problems.
The state is preparing to launch a $2 million feasibility study, including the roughly 4-mile corridor between the bridge and Essen Lane, to look at traffic flow, safety and noise walls and to collect public comments.
“We are in conversations with the consultant who is going to do the study, and I believe we now have the traffic data that we need,” said DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas, who attended the hearing.
The study is expected to take 18-24 months.
“We hear their concerns,” LeBas said of bridge complaints that were registered on Thursday.
John Alexander, a businessman who lives in Addis, said it took him 40 minutes to drive to the State Capitol.
Alexander said numerous studies on the issue have been done over the years as motorists “sit in line to get on the bridge.
“We need to address these things,” he said.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, made a similar comment.
“Everybody knows the bottleneck is the split to the bridge,” said White, who is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Louisiana has a transportation backlog of about $12 billion.
A separate panel, called the Transportation Funding Task Force, is studying ways to finance some of those priorities.
However, any recommended changes are likely to be short term, in part because 2015 is an election year for House and Senate members.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, proposed tweaking the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help finance about $70 million per year in highway upkeep.
Adley said his plan is the lone idea he has come up with that does not trigger “political chaos,” including redirecting about $60 million per year of highway revenue that is sent to State Police.