Gov. John Bel Edwards and a host of other politicians Thursday celebrated the launch of a rare, high-profile highway project: widening Interstate 10 from Highland Road to La. Hwy. 73 in suburban Ascension Parish.
"We have to make this city more accessible for the state and the nation," Edwards said.
The $72 million plan will add a lane in each direction and is expected to take about 2 1/2 years to finish.
A contract has been signed for the $72 million project to widen Interstate 10 between Highland Road and La. Hwy. 73 in suburban Ascension Pari…
The 6.5 mile stretch is used by about 95,000 motorists daily, and the site of regular backups during morning and evening rush hours.
It is part of an interstate that stretches from California to Florida, and which sparks regular complaints from truckers and others who have to travel through Baton Rouge.
The announcement was unusual because most transportation talk here is focused on what cannot be done because of a lack of road and bridge dollars.
State officials are using innovative financing to pay for the work amid Louisiana's $13 billion backlog of road and bridge projects, and the death of a $510 million gasoline tax hike last year in the Legislature.
This one includes $40 million the state garnered in unused highway funds from other states.
Future pricey projects will also require non-traditional funding sources for the Baton Rouge area and elsewhere.
Among those on hand were East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, state Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rougem Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, and Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Broome noted that, during the work, motorists will face additional challenges.
"There is a little discomfort, but I call that temporary discomfort for long-term gain," she said.
Asked after the announcement about the importance of the work Broome said, "I think it brings optimism and hope to the motorists of our community."
"There has been an outcry for relief as it relates to traffic congestion," Broome said. "This is certainly going to be part of the solution."
Lambert noted that the work will take place in one of the fastest-growing areas of Louisiana, where congestion and infrastructure are the top complaints. "This project is going to go a long way to solving those problems," he said.
La. 73 is the Prairieville/Geismar exit.
In a brief interview, the governor noted that congestion relief is a key part of economic development.
Edwards added, "This is about quality of life. Not just the truck drivers. The mother who is trying to drive her daughter to the dentist or to soccer practice, or the family trying to go to church.
"This is important to them," he said.
Wilson, who has been on the job for two years, spearheaded the project and was singled out for praise by the governor.
The turnout, including about 75 officials and others, points up the political hunger for major highway projects amid bare bones budgets.
Others on hand were state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, Barbara Freiberg, a member of the Metro Council, Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge and former House Transportation Committee Chairman Juba Diez.
The death of the gas tax hike last year, which was backed by the Edwards' administration, all but ended chances for any major funding increases until 2021 because of legislative rules and political realities.
The measure, which followed months of hearings by a gubernatorial task force, died without a vote on the floor of either chamber.
Wilson has said that, as a result, motorists face longer delays and, eventually, more expensive projects because of the delays getting major work started.
"We don't have nearly as much as we need to to really tackle the backlog or make a lot of headway," Edwards said after the announcement.
"But the more constrained you are the more strategic you have to be in prioritizing your expenditures," he said. "This does produce one of the biggest returns on investment."
The state is using an accelerated process called design-build to do the widening.
The project is handled by a joint team of highway designers and builders rather than handling those steps separately.