In radio ad, Sen. David Vitter says “moving” Washington Street exit could offer traffic relief in Baton Rouge _lowres

Advocate Staff Photo by Travis Spradling. DIT. Picture shot on 3-10-01. Julian Ledet (left) and Alton Rogers, traffic signs workers for the La. Department of Transportation and Development, gingerly remove the exit sign for Washington Street hanging above the roadway on the Mississippi River Bridge entrance ramp to I-10 eastbound, at about 2:40 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The sign had vibrated loose, and was a hazard to passing vehicles, causing traffic problems for several hours Saturday. Keyword Public Works

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, in his bid for governor, is running a radio advertisement that says “moving the Washington Street exit” is one way to trim traffic problems in Baton Rouge.

The exit is one of the choke points on a 4-mile corridor that is under review by the state Department of Transportation and Development, and the subject of three public hearings next week.

Exactly what Vitter means is unclear.

Asked to elaborate on the ad or for an interview with Vitter, spokesman Luke Bolar emailed that, in public meetings Vitter has held around Baton Rouge, “the Washington Street exit comes up every single time.”

DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas said Wednesday that building a new exit off Interstate 110 north of the Washington Street exit is one option under consideration.

Doing so, she said, would ease some of the congestion caused by traffic on I-110 southbound getting off at Washington Street at the same time 18-wheelers and others leaving the bridge are merging onto I-10 eastbound.

However, LeBas said any such action would only address a small part of the area’s notorious traffic problem and that adding a new lane in each direction between the I-10 bridge and the I-10/12 split needs discussion.

Whether a new exit for motorists headed to Washington Street would result in the closing of the current one is too early to tell, according to a spokesman for LeBas.

Any push for changes around the Washington Street exit is sure to spark controversy, mostly because some area residents are concerned that major changes would harm their neighborhoods.

That opposition, as well as criticism from business leaders in the Perkins Road Overpass area, have killed previous efforts to ease daily traffic congestion by widening I-10.

Vitter, a Metairie Republican, cites the Washington Street exit during a one-minute radio ad, during which he claims only 11 cents of every state gasoline tax dollar is spent on road construction and repair. He said, as governor, “I’ll fix that and put more where the traffic is worst.

“In Baton Rouge, at the bridge, moving the Washington Street exit and improvements in Ascension and Livingston.”

LeBas has repeatedly stressed that DOTD officials want to work with residents and that any changes would minimize disruptions to business and residential areas.

She said Monday that “a building or two or three” might be affected by expanding the interstate, an apparent reference to the Perkins Road Overpass area.

LeBas said Wednesday the comment referred to the 4-mile corridor between the bridge and the split.

Vitter’s ad is unusual in that a candidate for governor would be proposing that an interstate exit be moved as part of his transportation plan.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said Monday that, while he would welcome any bid to alleviate traffic problems, adding new lanes in each direction on I-10 would cost an estimated $350 million and no funding source has been identified. “That is concerning,” Graves said.

He said that, while looking at new lanes, the state needs to proceed with quicker steps, including a new lane between the bridge and the Washington Street exit and improved access to the bridge on the west side of the Mississippi River.

LeBas says building a new lane in each direction between the bridge and the split could be financed in stages through a variety of sources, which she said was done with Interstate 49 in northwest Louisiana and is being done on I-49 South.

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