New DOTD chief: Finding I-10 solutions top priority _lowres

Advocate Photo by BRAD KEMP Shawn Wilson,center, chief of staff to the secretary at the DOTD, answers questions from a large crowd of concerned citizens during a meeting about the I-49 corridor plans Thursday Dec. 3, 2015 at the main public library in Lafayette, La.

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.-elect John Bel Edwards takes office next week, incoming transportation chief Shawn Wilson said Monday.

“You have to do something on the I-10 corridor,” Wilson told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “That corridor is an international corridor.”

The Department of Transportation and Development is studying, and held public hearings last year, on a proposal to add a new lane in each direction between the bridge and the I-10/Interstate 12 split.

However, it would cost an estimated $350 million, and the state is facing huge budget problems.

Wilson made his comments on the same day that a 27-member transportation transition committee spelled out a wide range of options for raising money for roads and bridges without endorsing any.

The review said that, while tax or fee hikes are “not attractive,” they may be the sole way to address state transportation needs.

Options include boosting Louisiana’s gasoline tax, higher sales taxes and tolls.

The committee said when new fees or taxes are raised for specific state problems, voters often assume the problem has been solved.

“To combat this, a concerted effort should be made by the governor and senior-level state officials to educate the public to ensure that there is a clear understanding of where transportation dollars are coming from and where and on what those dollars will be spent,” according to the 19-page report.

How long any such education effort would take is unclear.

Wilson initially listed work on the I-10 corridor in Baton Rouge as one of the administration’s top four highway priorities.

Later he indicated the four-mile stretch tops the list.

Other priorities include improving the interchange on I-10 at Loyola Avenue in connection with the expansion of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

Wilson said one advantage widening I-10 would have over construction of new bridge across the Mississippi River or a loop around Baton Rouge is that it could be done quicker.

“All of these projects can’t be done in the same timeframe of widening I-10 between the bridge and the split,” he said.

He said that, when money becomes available, segments of the work could be done that provide immediate relief for motorists.

Wilson, a 10-year veteran of DOTD, officially becomes secretary for DOTD next week. He succeeds Sherri LeBas, who has held the job for nearly six years.

Edwards will become governor on Monday.

Wilson becomes DOTD secretary at a time of huge road and bridge demands and major state budget problems that make quick solutions unlikely.

The state faces a $12.7 billion backlog of transportation needs — down from about $14 billion a few years ago — and the inability of state leaders to agree on any solutions.

The report said the state would need to approve $1 billion in construction projects yearly — up from $600 million now — and even that would not erase the backlog in four years.

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