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A bucket truck and other vehicles head south on La. 44 through the Loosemore/Brittany Tower road intersection between Gonzales and Burnside Friday, July 2, 2021. State highway contractors plan to widen this section of La. 44 in Ascension Parish to four lanes and add a roundabout just to the south of the current intersection.

BURNSIDE — A long-awaited fix to traffic on the busy La. 44 corridor between Gonzales and Burnside in Ascension Parish is likely two-to-three months from a construction start, state highway officials said Friday.

Bids for the proposed roundabout and widening of La. 44 from just south of Loosemore Road to a point south of Interstate 10 where four lanes end on the state highway were opened this past week, according to state officials.

The apparent low bidder, KCR Contractors LLC, of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, came at $6.21 million — more than $871,100 over the state estimate, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development officials said.

Ascension Parish officials hailed the bid as one of four projects worth $22.4 million in state road spending headed to the parish after bids were opened June 23 in Baton Rouge and announced by DOTD on Wednesday.

The other three are two road pavement overlay jobs in Dutchtown, Gonzales, Sorrento and parts of St. James Parish and a turn lane project on Airline Highway in Gonzales, parish officials said. 

First-term Parish President Clint Cointment credited the relationships that his administration has built with DOTD and the Legislature over the past year-and-a-half in securing the projects.

"This will go a long way in getting traffic moving through the parish," Cointment said in a statement Friday.

The proposed two-lane roundabout and widening of La. 44 to four lanes have been the subject of planning by DOTD for several years, as new neighborhoods like Conway and Oak Lake have arisen and older ones like Pelican Point and Pelican Crossing have continued to grow.

Developers in the area have already added another roundabout on La. 44 to the north of Loosemore and added some extra lanes to the formerly two-lane highway, but the DOTD project will finish off a four-lane strip between Loosemore and I-10, plans show.

DOTD held two public hearings on the plans in 2017 and again in 2018 and faced some opposition from residents who lived off Loosemore and were worried about being able to get onto La. 44 without a traffic light. The intersection only has stops signs for Loosemore and Brittany Tower roads across the highway.

DOTD plans show agency officials have proposed the new roundabout be built just south of the existing intersection between La. 44, Loosemore and Brittany Tower, or La. 941.

Part of Brittany Tower will be closed and rerouted south to the new roundabout, which is being shifted away from the intersection to avoid underground pipelines, past conceptual plans show. Traffic leaving Loosemore will have limited access only to La. 44 southbound.

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Roundabouts are circular, continuous flow intersections that allow cars and trucks to enter and exit from multiple directions without halting traffic. 

The intersections have proliferated on state highways in rural and growing suburban areas across the Florida Parishes, in the Lafayette area and elsewhere, as DOTD officials have seen them as cheaper to maintain than traffic lights and safer at handling increased traffic flows. 

DOTD officials often point to accident data showing the intersections drastically cut deadly head-on and T-bone crashes more common at traditional intersections.

The state roundabout will be the third one DOTD has built in Ascension Parish; the others are at La. 42 and La. 431 near the Amite River and Port Vincent and in Sorrento at La. 70 and La. 22 just south of Interstate 10.

The latest bid for the Burnside roundabout also comes as Ascension government is building its first roundabout at La. 930 and Henry Road in Prairieville. Ascension had spent more than a decade trying to build a roundabout only to be stymied at other intersections due to the cost of underground pipeline conflicts or land acquisition problems.

Funded through Ascension's Move Ascension program, work on that La. 930 roundabout started a few months ago and is expected to be finished before the start of the school year, Councilman Aaron Lawler, the Transportation Committee chairman, said.

"Hopefully, the first of many," Lawler said. 

The $1.34 million roundabout, which is near public schools and will handle bus traffic, is the first of several planned under Move Ascension. It is parish government's capital road program financed through a mix of local, state and federal tax and parish impact fee dollars. 

Other Ascension projects for which DOTD officials opened bids June 23 include the following: 

* Overlay of La. 70 between the Sunshine Bridge and Sorrento in Ascension and St. James parishes at a construction cost of nearly $6.93 million.

* Overlay of La. 74 between the Iberville Parish line and Airline Highway in the Dutchtown and Gonzales areas at construction cost of nearly $8.9 million.

* Turn lane improvements on Airline Highway at East Cornerview Street, or La. 3038, in Gonzales at cost of $395,360.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.