Sixth District Congressman Garret Graves of Baton Rouge said Monday the Washington Street exit needs immediate attention, and a possible reworking, to help ease daily traffic tie ups on and near Interstate 10 and the Mississippi River Bridge.
A short stretch near the exit is the lone spot on a 2,460-mile coast-to-coast highway where traffic narrows to one lane.
“It is ridiculous,” Graves said. “We need to fix that immediately.”
Later in the day Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said she has met with Graves and that changes he is touting dovetail with plans under review by DOTD.
Graves made his comments to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
The Republican was elected to Congress in December and succeeded U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, also a Baton Rouge Republican.
Graves said that, while he does not favor closing the exit, the area near it may be able to be revamped to handle an additional eastbound lane.
Eastbound traffic leaving the bridge now includes an inside lane that forces traffic off at Washington Street.
That means eastbound motorists, including operators of 18-wheelers, often make hasty moves from the Washington Street exit path to the outside lane, slowing or stopping other vehicles in adjacent lanes.
The result is daily traffic backups on I-110 South, especially during afternoon rush hours.
The possible change envisioned by Graves and DOTD would carve out an additional eastbound lane between the bridge and the exit.
In theory that would ease traffic flow for two, eastbound lanes leaving the bridge and two other lanes on southbound I-110.
Traffic bottlenecks near the bridge have caused controversy for years and rank as one of the top trouble spots in a state capital known for time-killing backups.
An average of 102,000 cars and trucks crossed the bridge daily in 2013, up 33 percent since 1998.
Some state officials contend the long-term answer is a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.
However, a $7 billion plus tax hike to do that and finance other improvements died during the 2015 legislative session and similar efforts have failed previously.
The Washington Street exit is part of a $2 million state study on how to improve traffic between the bridge and the I-10/12 split.
“I have been meeting with Congressman Graves on this problem, and have shared with him our thoughts on what we are preliminarily looking at here,” LeBas said in a telephone interview.
“So when you tell me he wants to look at reconfiguring that area then that is what we are doing,” she said. “I am in total agreement with his statement.”
LeBas said it makes no sense to close the Washington Street exit, which motorists often suggest. She said that would simply move the bottlenecks about 300 feet.
“If we could develop another lane, so that we have that true lane balance of two lanes from I-10 and two from 110, then we will be able to see better traffic flow,” LeBas said.
She said the Washington Street exit and other issues will be discussed during a DOTD public hearing in August. No date has been set.
Another possible change under review by DOTD would allow motorists to exit I-110 South and get to Washington Street without having to rely on the current Washington Street exit.
Those doing so now sometimes come to a complete stop on the interstate, then aim for the exit while eastbound traffic leaving the bridge is forcing its way into the middle and outer lane.
Graves, a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said today’s backups represent a failure of sorts by Baton Rouge area community leaders four decades ago.
“You could have anticipated 40 years ago that we were going to have bottlenecks at our river crossings,” he said.
“We should have been looking at another river crossing or improving access to one other river crossings that have excess capacity, like the Sunshine Bridge, the Grammercy-Wallace bridge, the old bridge to some degree or now the Audubon Bridge,” Graves said. “And those access roads don’t exist today.”
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