Big trucks would be restricted to using the right lane of interstates during evening rush hour in Baton Rouge under a bill that won approval Monday in the House Transportation Committee.
The measure, House Bill 432, cleared the committee 7-5 and next faces action, and an uncertain future, in the full House.
The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, said he is willing to try anything to address constant complaints about traffic backups in the Baton Rouge area.
A bid to let voters in East Baton Rouge and four other parishes enact their own gas tax narrowly failed Tuesday in a Louisiana House committee.
"We've got a problem," Carter told the committee.
Carter sponsored a measure in 2017 that would have raised Louisiana's gasoline tax by 17 cents per gallon to address the state's nearly $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.
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However, that effort died without votes on the House or Senate floors.
The bill endorsed by the committee would apply to any truck-tractor, trailer, semitrailer and school buses.
It would be in effect on weekdays from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.
The only exceptions would be when drivers leave the interstate using a left lane exit.
The rules would apply to roughly 30 miles on Interstate 10, Interstate 12 and Interstate 110.
It would cover I-10 east from the middle of the "new" Mississippi River Bridge to just east of the Highland Road exit; I-12 from the I-10/12 split to just east of O'Neal Lane and on I-110 between Dalrymple and the Natchez/Scenic Highway exit.
However, even some area lawmakers who grapple with traffic problems daily said they have concerns about the bill.
Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, said it is impractical to think big trucks could safely cross multiple lanes from the right lane of eastbound I-10, near the split, to the right lane of I-12 east. "You are not going to do that real quick," Pope said.
Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, said she is sympathetic to Carter's concerns. "I feel the pain every time I leave here to head to Washington Parish," White said.
But she said it is unrealistic to think that truck drivers from around the nation will enter Baton Rouge and be aware of the right-lane-only rules.
Carter noted that his bill would require the state Department of Transportation and Development to erect the proper signage.
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Rep. Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge, praised Carter's proposal and asked why it would not apply to peak travel times in the morning too.
Carter said if his afternoon changes show good results he will ask the Legislature to make it apply during morning rush hour too.
The legislation was opposed by officials of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association.
Maria Bowen, a lobbyist for the group, said she wishes she could support the bill.
"Our drivers would like nothing better than to move through Baton Rouge safely and efficiently," she said.
But Bowen said an earlier study on the issue concluded that, to work efficiently, lane restrictions would need to apply to stretches of interstate where interchanges are two miles apart with low volume for on- and off-ramps – not the case in Baton Rouge.
She said Carter's proposal would also prevent truck drivers from avoiding traffic problems they can see from their elevated vantage point.
Several lawmakers noted that Louisiana already has a law, widely ignored, that says motorists are supposed to stay in the right lane on highways except when passing.
Lt. Robert Burns of the State Police said officers regularly issue citations for motorists who "camp out" in the left lane.
"We could issue citations non-stop," Burns told the committee.
Fines for violations vary among parishes.
Carter described his bill as sort of a pilot project.
"This is just something to try," he said. "If we can keep the trucks in the right lane traffic will flow better."
Voting "yes" on the bill were state Reps. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette; Terry Brown, No-Party, Colfax; Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge; Jeffrey Hall, D-Alexandria; Frank Howard, R-Many; Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; and Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette.
Voting "no" on HB432 were Reps. Ken Brass, D-Gonzales; Jerry Gisclair, D-Larose; J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs; Malinda White, D-Bogalusa; and Mark Wright, R-Covington.