The Interstate 10 exit ramp at Essen Lane for eastbound motorists is open and all the widening work between the I-10/12 split and Siegen Lane will be done by the end of January, officials said Tuesday.

“It’s a significant milestone for the project and more importantly signifies that construction between the split and Siegen is nearing completion,” said Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

About 73,000 drivers use the corridor daily.

The widening of I-10 between the split and Siegen Lane, which began in January 2009, was originally supposed to be finished by late 2011.

LeBas said in November that she thought the $86 million overhaul would be done by the end of the year or early next year.

“That project is expected to be completed early 2013, around the end of January 2013,” she said on Tuesday.

Brian Owens, project engineer, later said that all three lanes in each direction should be open by mid-January.

Opening the exit ramp at Essen Lane for eastbound travelers has the effect of moving bottlenecks from the split to Essen.

LeBas said it will benefit businesses along heavily traveled Essen Lane, including Our Lady of Lake Regional Medical Center, which she said handles 35,000 patients and 350,000 outpatients per year.

Jeff S. Kuehny, director and professor of LSU’s AgCenter’s Botanic Gardens at Burden, said the new exit ramp will improve access for the Botanic Gardens and the Rural Life Museum.

Kuehny said those two sites attract about 100,000 visitors per year.

The exit ramp had been closed entirely during certain hours in recent months while the widening work unfolded.

The stretch of I-10 between the split and Highland Road is one of the most congested in the Baton Rouge area, and especially during the Christmas shopping season.

LeBas said the widening of I-10 between Siegen Lane and Highland Road is expected to be finished by March or April.

It is a separate, $60 million project.

Weather issues always play a role in the completion date, as they will for the remaining work between the split and Siegen Lane.

Once the entire stretch has three lanes in each direction, she said, the impact should be as noticeable as the widening of I-12 between O’Neal Lane and Juban Road, which cost $146 million.

The widening of I-10 between the split and Siegen Lane is behind schedule largely because state officials in 2011 replaced the lead contractor, Austin Bridge & Road Inc., with Boh Bros. Construction of New Orleans.

Among the work that is left to do are exit ramps at Essen Lane, Mall of Louisiana/Bluebonnet Boulevard and Siegen Lane for westbound motorists and, for eastbound travelers, the Essen Lane entrance ramp, Bluebonnet exit ramp, mall exit ramp, Mall/Bluebonnet entrance ramp and the entranceramp at Siegen.