State and local officials are inching closer to the implementation of a massive project aimed at reducing traffic congestion on Interstate 10 through Baton Rouge and beautifying areas around and beneath the interstate.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks Commission will seek public input Thursday evening on the agencies’ ideas for one part of the more than $1.1 billion effort: A greenway corridor and park improvements alongside and beneath I-10 through Old South Baton Rouge along with a previously announced revamping of the I-10 crossing over City Park Lake.
“We have embarked on an effort to build back better … this whole stretch of interstate where we’re adding capacity, but we’re also doing it in a way that’s a little bit more sensitive than perhaps when we first built the interstate,” DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said, emphasizing the aesthetics, safety and efficiency of the interstate.
That’s where BREC comes in.
The parks agency intends to upgrade Expressway Park underneath the Interstate 110 and I-10 split with new amenities, lighting and public art, said Reed Richard, Assistant Superintendent of Planning and Construction for BREC.
East Polk Street Park under I-10 near City Park Lake will also receive similar upgrades with the intention of healing bad feelings caused by I-10’s construction in the 1960s, Richard said.
“The primary goals of the projects are to help heal these fractures and create a sense of place that contributes to a new identity for the surrounding neighborhoods and to communicate a collective sense of culture and history for residents, the surrounding downtown business district, and visitors from all over,” Richard wrote in an email.
BREC is receiving approximately $3.1 million from the Federal Highway Administration and will contribute a further $600,000 for the parks’ improvements, Richard said.
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The work is part of a $1.1 billion project to widen the eight miles of Interstate 10 between La. Hwy 415 on the west bank to near where Interstate 12 splits from the I-10 on the east bank.
The widening of I-10 is expected to begin in early 2023, and construction will take six years.
As DOTD works on the interstate, the agency will also construct a walking and cycling path along I-10 from Expressway Park to Dalrymple Drive. The path will connect the Downtown Greenway to the University Lakes. The lakes are currently being restored and improved with additional pathing and lights, a project DOTD is also participating in.
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“A signature element of this interstate project is how we interact and interface with the community on what we’re building,” Wilson said.
The two agencies are seeking the public’s input about those parks and recreation improvements connected to the I-10 project Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center at 950 E. Washington St.
Residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on recreational opportunities and amenities that may exist around the proposed parks and paths, Wilson said. Polling will also be done on four design options for the I-10 bridge over City Park Lake and three “monument towers” that will be built on the four corners of the bridge.
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The I-10 project is still in its design phase, Wilson said, but construction on elements of the corridor are expected to begin soon.
Improvements to the College Drive off-ramp will begin later this year, as well as some utility and surface street work, Wilson said.
"This is a major project that has to happen now,” Wilson said. “The longer we wait, the more costly it gets, and I'm just ecstatic to be able to improve the commute and the community through Baton Rouge with this project.”