Louisiana Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, is asking state leaders to weigh an unusual move for improving traffic in and out of Baton Rouge by widening a stretch of Interstate 12.
How would it be done?
By converting the inside shoulder of I-12 to a travel lane between the I-10/12 split and the Walker exit, a roughly 15-mile corridor that could grow from six to eight lanes.
“You would have a smoother flow of traffic, which would probably be conducive to fewer accidents,” said Erdey, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. “And that ultimately means less delays getting to and from work.”
Top state transportation officials said the request, which is contained in an Erdey-sponsored resolution approved by the Louisiana Senate, is about to get a review.
“We are going to analyze this and look at it thoroughly,” said Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development. “We need to gather and analyze data.”
The stretch of I-12 to be studied is one of the most heavily traveled in the Baton Rouge area and part of recent state efforts to improve traffic conditions.
More than 108,000 cars and trucks per day traveled just east of O’Neal Lane on I-12 last year, according to DOTD figures.
Work is nearing completion on almost $200 million of lane and other improvements — three lanes in each direction — that eventually will stretch from O’Neal Lane to Satsuma.
Erdey’s focus is the section from the I-10/12 split to La. 447 near Walker, which is Exit 15.
He wants DOTD officials to study the possibility of converting inside shoulders to travel lanes during peak weekday driving hours — 6 a.m. until 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.
Kalivoda said he is not aware of any such conversions on interstates in Louisiana. He has, however, seen interstate shoulders turned to travel lanes on I-95 near Washington, D.C.
However, Erdey’s proposal faces a wide range of hurdles. Shoulders along the interstate are a safety outlet for motorists.
“The current design criteria requires a full shoulder on both sides if you have a six-lane facility,” Kalivoda said.
“The logic for that is if you have three lanes in one direction and you are in the left lane and have a flat tire or mechanical failure, it is difficult to weave across,” he said.
The shoulders are usually about 15 feet wide.
Interstate travel lanes are typically 12 feet wide.
Any such conversion would also require federal review, and possibly approval, because interstates are federal roads.
Kenneth A. Perret, a former top official of DOTD, said converting shoulders to travel lanes is a dicey topic. “It is kind of a touchy thing,” Perret said.
He said that, after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, state transportation officials considered a wide range of options to expand capacity.
“One of the things that held DOTD back was lots of questions on what happens if you have an accident and you don’t have a shoulder,” Perret said.
He also noted that, while the concept has been used in the Washington, D.C., area and elsewhere, it would be new to motorists in Louisiana.
“You can’t just expect people to know,” he said. “It takes education, and it takes enforcement.”
Perret is president of the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association.
Erdey said he knows there are questions that go with his idea.
“What I am trying to do is encourage conversations,” he said. “I just wanted to start the dialogue.”