SORRENTO — Mayor Mike Lambert says a state plan to limit left turns along a congested and compact section of La. 22 between Interstate 10 and La. 70 worries him because of its effect on gas stations and other businesses in the area.
But the Sorrento mayor said Friday he also believes officials may have an acceptable fix in the works.
State Department of Transportation and Development officials say they are trying to improve safety and traffic flow with J-turns that would limit where drivers could make left- and U-turns through the La. 22 corridor and with a roundabout at the La. 22/La. 70 intersection.
But Lambert said the J-turns, in combination with lights controlling when people turn, could alter traffic patterns and affect businesses important to Sorrento’s small tax base.
“The majority of my retail businesses are in the corridor there,” Lambert said. “I have concerns on their effect in the short term, the effect during construction and the longer-term effect.”
The mayor’s comments came a day after an open house Thursday evening at the Sorrento Community Center, where 50 to 60 people, including Lambert, showed up to learn more about DOTD’s plans.
The project, which could see construction in the summer or fall of 2018, is estimated to cost up to $5 million and is almost fully funded with federal highway safety dollars, DOTD officials said.
DOTD traffic engineers said Thursday they were originally asked to solve safety and traffic flow troubles that lead to backups on the eastbound I-10 off-ramp at the La. 22 interchange in Sorrento.
They pointed to a video animation playing in the community center and demonstrating what traffic modeling has found: As cars and 18-wheelers try to make left turns into gas stations along the narrow, two-lane section of La. 22 just south of I-10, traffic piles up on the nearby I-10 off-ramp, waiting for vehicles to finish their turns.
The area carries heavy traffic as workers and big rigs head to and from plants along the Mississippi River. Engineers came to see the need for not only controlling where left turns happen but also building the roundabout at La. 22 and La. 70, which does not have a traffic light.
Roundabouts are sometimes a controversial concept, but this one, which would have a 21-foot-wide inner apron to help handle tractor-trailers, seemed to generate little worry Thursday. As a continuous flow circular intersection, roundabouts cut fatalities by 90 percent, a DOTD fact sheet says.
Jeff Brown, who works at a Kinder Morgan office in the La. 22 corridor, said he is fine with a roundabout. He said he and co-workers see and hear crashes at the La. 70/La. 22 intersection all the time.
Most business owners instead focused Thursday on left turn access. Some suggested DOTD move the two J-turn locations south of I-10 closer together, so they line up more with gas stations on either side of La. 22.
Tommy Parsons Jr., owner with his father of a Speedy Junction west of La. 22 and near the I-10 eastbound off-ramp, said a proposed J-turn near his business needs a traffic light, as the other J-turn down La. 22 will already get. Otherwise, he said, northbound drivers on La. 22 won’t be able to get to his business when they try to cross heavy traffic exiting I-10 onto La. 22 and headed southbound in the morning.
“It’s not fair to not put a light there, a signal light, to be able to get around here,” Parsons said pointing the J-turn on a map of the corridor. “That’s suicide right there.”
Brendan Rush, DOTD spokesman, said highway officials will look at Parsons’ and others’ concerns.
“I think overall we got some really good feedback from folks, and we’re going to look at what tweaks we can put in before we start running the final numbers,” Rush said Friday.
Mayor Lambert said businesses may look at altering their entrances to better line up with the future J-turns.