Gov. John Bel Edwards' $350 million plan to widen Interstate 10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split in Baton Rouge has rekindled anxiety among business owners who have fought similar proposals for nearly two decades.
The heart of the criticism has always been the Perkins Road overpass area. It is an eclectic blend of restaurants, bars and shops that make it one of the city's most distinctive neighborhoods.
Opponents killed a similar plan to widen I-10 in 2001 and squashed renewed efforts in 2011 and 2015.
While the state will hold three more public hearings on widening Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge, when and whether the project ever happens is unclear.
But this time a governor is behind the push, a funding source has been identified, and work is set to start in 2019.
Backers contend the expansion would ease daily traffic tie-ups that have helped turn Baton Rouge into a hotbed of motorist complaints.
State Department of Transportation and Development leaders also say that, since the state owns 85 percent of the needed right of way, I-10 can be widened without serious disruptions to Perkins Road overpass businesses.
"I am very skeptical of that," said Mark Fay, a physical therapist with Moreau Physical Therapy, just yards from the interstate.
"I mean, governmental entities being what they are, they always say what you want to hear," Fay said. "So yeah, I would be skeptical about that."
That said, Fay believes widening the interstate would help the Baton Rouge area. "I think the long-term good is probably worth it," he said.
The governor spelled out his plan on Jan. 12, which includes closing the Perkins Road exit and on-ramp to I-10.
Expanding Interstate 10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/12 split will take at least five years to complete, Louisiana's transpor…
The roughly 4-mile Baton Rouge project is the key part of a $600 million plan that would be financed with federal bonds, which would then be repaid over a 12-year period.
Spending up to $110 million to help link I-10 at Loyola Avenue to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is also part of the package.
Shawn Wilson, secretary for DOTD, said he hopes to reach agreement with federal officials on the bond plan in the next few months.
Finding solutions for daily traffic tie-ups on Interstate 10 near the I-10 Mississippi River bridge will be one of the top priorities when Gov…
Wilson said environmental and other work can be finished by the end of the year and construction could start early next year.
Edwin Edwards, co-owner of Ivar's Sports Bar & Grill and grandson of the former governor, said he understands that the widening would be done on the interior of I-10.
"So it will not affect us as much as we thought it would," Edwards said. "Still, the construction and influx of machinery is going to hurt the area."
Edwards is also skeptical of comments by DOTD officials that disruptions will be minimal. "They are going to do whatever needs to be done to get the job done," he said.
"I don't think they are going to intentionally try to displace anybody," Edwards said. "They are going to do what is necessary for the interstate system."
Others said it is too soon to pass judgment.
"I guess we are going to see when the plans come out," said Dylan Ferguson, assistant manager of Parrain's Seafood, which opened in 2001.
Ferguson said one concern is closing the Perkins Road exit off I-10.
"We get a lot of traffic from that," he said.
Michael Cefalu, assistant manager of Schilittz & Giggles, is not as concerned about losing the exit.
"Seeing that the Acadian exit is right next to us, I don't really see a huge need to have the Perkins exit right here," he said. "There are so many exits along the way."
Cefalu said of the project, "It could mess with the ambience around here. But I can't say for sure."
The governor's plan is not a done deal.
Aside from review by federal officials, the proposal will undergo scrutiny from the State Bond Commission, Joint Transportation Committee and Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
If the plan wins final approval, when any work would be done around the Perkins Road overpass area is unclear.
The widening and surface repairs would be done in sections, not a continuous line between the bridge and the I-10/12 split.
Wilson said on Jan. 12 that it would take at least five years to finish "and probably seven or eight before you have everything fully done, all things working perfectly."
Keeping travel lanes open during construction is a key factor in the timeline.
Troy Menier, whose family has operated Troy's Barber Shop since 1970, is skeptical that DOTD can do the work with little impact on businesses.
"They are not going to tear down any of the buildings over here? They have enough room?
"Can they guarantee that? They are telling us everything we want to hear so we don't fight them on it," Menier added.
"And when it finally gets OK'd, they are going to say 'Well, you know, we messed up. We are going to have to tear this down, that down.'"
"And it's going to destroy this area," Menier said.