The state is launching a study to determine whether to revamp a heavily traveled exit off the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge used by eastbound motorists to reach LSU and downtown.
The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing July 26 at the Leo Butler Community Center.
Exit 155A on eastbound I-10 now takes motorists to Nicholson Drive or Highland Road. Those headed to Nicholson use Terrace Avenue to get there, with a light at the intersection of Terrace and Nicholson and near the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association.
The state wants to change that exit route.
Instead of using Terrace Avenue, the exit ramp would continue to Oklahoma Street, which is one block south of Terrace. A stoplight would replace the stop sign there now.
Motorists could then turn left onto Nicholson to head to LSU, turn right to downtown or go straight on Oklahoma to reach River Road, with the $60 million Water Campus about a half-mile north of the intersection of Oklahoma and River Road.
Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said extending the exit ramp to Oklahoma would improve traffic flow and give motorists easier access to the growth on Nicholson Drive as well as downtown.
The current arrangement "is an awkwardly designed intersection," Wilson said.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, whose House district includes the area under review, said she has discussed the idea with Wilson.
"Basically you are extending the off-ramp to Oklahoma," Wilson said. "Instead of coming out right on Nicholson next to the Sheriffs' Association, you will come out by Shammy's Car Wash on Nicholson."
Wilson said that having a light at the end of the exit ramp and the backups that accompany it are not ideal.
The plan would also designate improvements along Nicholson, including drainage, resurfacing and some changes in median openings.
What the changes would cost isn't yet known.
"I don't expect it to be a major cost," Wilson said. "But at the end of the day, it has to go through this process."
The state has a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, with little financial relief in sight until at least 2021.
Wilson often says it makes sense to do the preliminary work on priority projects so when funds become available, including federal grants, the state is ready to go.
"This is one of those steps," he said of the study.
Officials at the Water Campus declined comment.
Baton Rouge Area Foundation officials said revamping the exit would be part of the ongoing effort to upgrade the area.
"The proposed realignment is part of an infrastructure and traffic plan for the Nicholson corridor, from LSU to downtown," Mukul Verma, director of communications for BRAF, said in an email.
"The goal is to be ready for expected development and to make the area safer for the people who will live and work on the main link," Verma said.
The new exit on Oklahoma would be near The River House, which includes 224 luxury apartments spread over two four-story buildings.
Those units sit on the west side of Nicholson near the corner of Nicholson and Oklahoma.
Marc Blumberg, who is the developer of the project, said he is encouraged by what he has learned about the plans.
"From what we heard just on a discussion basis it sounded like an advantageous proposal for our property, The River House, and improve the flow of traffic off the bridge and onto the Nicholson corridor," Blumberg said.
Other work in the area includes the LSU Nicholson Gateway Development, which is going up on a 28-acre site between West Chimes Street and Skip Bertman Drive.
The latest plan is different from another one involving Terrace Avenue.
The state plans to add a new exit off I-110 South aimed at preventing eastbound traffic from crossing multiple lanes to get to the Washington Street area.
The project would allow motorists to do so by exiting at Terrace.
That work is set to begin on July 23 and take about one year to finish.