State officials in August will offer concepts on how to improve near-daily traffic jams between the Interstate 10 bridge and Essen Lane in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s transportation chief said Monday.
However, Sherri LeBas said any work on tackling the problem would be rolled out in “fundable” stages, and is heavily dependent on an infusion of dollars for transportation tentatively set for 2020.
LeBas, who is secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, made her comments during a nearly two-hour appearance before the state Senate Finance Committee. The panel is reviewing the spending plan for DOTD and other state agencies.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, a member of the committee, broached the topic because he said it comes up constantly.
“People are frustrated,” Claitor said. “It doesn’t matter where I am, people want to talk about traffic on I-10.”
Heavy increases in traffic over the I-10 bridge have helped spark almost daily tieups, especially for eastbound traffic during evening rush hours.
The average daily traffic count on the bridge in 2013 was about 102,000 vehicles, up 33 percent since 1998.
LeBas noted that the state has launched a feasibility study on possible solutions — it will cost up to $2 million — with an online public survey and plans for a telephone survey to be done by LSU.
She said DOTD officials will unveil concepts in August on how to address the traffic problems, such as possible changes in the Washington Street exit or widening the bridge over the LSU lakes.
The business owners, including longtime bookstores, restaurants and barber shops, fear that any overhaul would drastically change or destroy their livelihoods.
Residents of neighborhoods near the Washington Street exit, in the past, have criticized I-10 widening plans amid fears that any widening would destroy home values and cause other problems.
DOTD already faces a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge projects.
LeBas said any solutions to traffic on the corridor between the Mississippi River bridge and near Essen Lane would likely be funded in stages, much like work on Interstate 49 South.
She said tackling part of the problem for about $50 million is easier than trying to find seven or eight times that amount to finance the entire project. “That’s my vision, that is my thinking as we move forward,” LeBas told the committee.
Another question is whether dollars will be available for any improvements, even if a plan is agreed on.
LeBas repeatedly told the committee that DOTD is banking on the injection of up to $400 million per year in motor vehicle sales tax revenue under a 2008 state law.
It would move dollars from the general revenue fund, which finances a wide range of state services, to one for transportation only.
However, that law is dependent on state revenue meeting certain thresholds by 2020, which is questionable.
LeBas repeatedly emphasized that any ideas unveiled in August would be proposals, not anything etched in stone.
“We need to show people concepts,” she said after the meeting.
The DOTD secretary also noted that her agency is doing a feasibility study for erecting a new bridge across the Mississippi River between the I-10 and Sunshine bridges.
That review stems from a study resolution approved last year and sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chairman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part.
“Hopefully it happens in our lifetime,” Claitor quipped, a reference to a new Baton Rouge area bridge becoming reality.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/ politicsblog.