Construction crews will begin work within a month to widen a 1.6-mile stretch of U.S. 90 from Albertson Parkway to Ambassador Caffery Parkway, part of a gargantuan effort that ultimately could extend Interstate 49 from Lafayette to New Orleans.

The three-year U.S. 90 widening project includes building a new overpass at Albertson Parkway and replacing the old one over the Burlington Northern railroad tracks and La. 182.

James Construction Group, of Baton Rouge, was awarded the design-build project in December with a bid of $57.1 million.

“The completion of this project will improve the daily commute for workers by decreasing travel time and increasing safety by providing an unhindered flow of traffic,” said Deidra Druilhet, the Lafayette spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

Rodney James, vice president of the company’s Civil Projects Division, said the project’s schedule should keep traffic congestion to a minimum.

“I think the sequence of construction that’s been worked out with the Department of Transportation will minimize the traffic jams,” James said.

James said workers first will construct new frontage roads, where traffic will later detour while the extra lanes are being built. He said work should begin around Aug. 1.

DOTD and Broussard officials are coordinating utilities relocations near the current overpass over La. 182, Mayor Charles Langlinais said.

The work plan for the existing overpass at La. 182 is to route traffic to the outer portion and rebuild the middle section. After completion, the outer lanes will be built, Druilhet said. She said the existing structure that supports the overpass eventually will be removed during construction.

Completion is set for summer 2017 and will add to the three-lane stretch of U.S. 90 that now ends just south of Albertson Parkway.

The project is designed to upgrade U.S. 90 to standards that will lead to Interstate 49 South, which could run to the Westbank Expressway or to Interstate 310, which runs north at Boutte. Both roads would carry traffic to New Orleans.

Interstate 49 South is a long-planned and long-coveted 150-mile thoroughfare to link Lafayette to New Orleans, through Louisiana’s so-called Energy Corridor.

“Corridor improvements along I-49 South will allow for quicker access to local airports and ports, including Lafayette Regional Airport, Acadiana Regional Airport (near New Iberia) and the ports of Iberia, West St. Mary and Morgan City,” Druilhet said.

I-49 South Coalition members Bret Allain, a state senator from Franklin, and Mike Michot, a former state senator from Lafayette, said all current and future construction projects on U.S. 90 are being designed and built to interstate standards.

The coalition’s mission is being spearheaded by Michot and The Picard Group, a consulting agency in Lafayette that includes Michot among its consultants. The I-49 South Coalition, funded by businesses, has one mission: completion of an unimpeded interstate highway from Lafayette to New Orleans.

Much of U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans is at interstate standards, but there remain sections — west of Morgan City and east of La. 1 — where red lights regulate at-grade intersections.

But the major barrier is the portion of I-49 that would connect the interstate from where it stops now — at Interstate 10 — to south of Lafayette. Building the connector could cost the billions of dollars.

“There’s no doubt the connector through Lafayette is the key,” Allain said. “It’s the biggest piece to this.”

Michot and Allain said the I-49 South Coalition is considering backing toll collections to fund the Lafayette connector.

“A lot of people keep talking about it like the glass is half-empty, and I’m thinking it’s three-quarters full,” Allain said.