CLINTON — A contractor has started work on a combined project to beautify a highway section in the old downtown area near the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse and make it easy for large trucks to navigate the area.

The project involves part of La. 10 — St. Helena Street — between the two sections of La. 67 in the downtown area, also known as Plank Road and Liberty Highway.

Truck traffic using La. 67 must make two sharp turns on and off the two-block section of La. 10 that runs through the traditional business district.

Wider turning lanes will help truck drivers execute the turns needed to go north or south through Clinton on La. 67.

Not everyone is happy with the project.

Barber Brothers Construction Co. won the $1.2 million contract in April, but the recent appearance of construction equipment and construction cones caught many people by surprise, including merchants with businesses in the area.

At least 50 people, some of them hostile to the idea, attended a meeting at the Clinton Town Hall on Aug. 7 to discuss the project. State Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, said he helped set up the meeting because of the questions that Clinton residents were raising about the scope of the work.

Town Engineer Gary McClure said the town and Clinton's historical society applied for an "enhancement grant" in 2001 make aesthetic changes to St. Helena Street from the courthouse square to Plank Road.

The project languished without funding, however, until the state Department of Transportation and Development decided to combine it with another project to make it easier for trucks to travel through the town.

"The intent was to combine the two projects to make them more efficient," said David Smith, a DOTD official who spoke at the meeting.

"Right now, it's a very unsafe intersection," McClure said.

"None of us drive 18-wheelers," said businessman Louis Savoy. "Don't throw it down our throats that it's for the benefit of us."

Savoy and others said most truck drivers who come through town on the two state highways do so to avoid truck scales on other roads connecting Louisiana and Mississippi.

The enhancement project will replace the area's sidewalks of concrete with brick paving, plant crepe myrtle trees along the route and install up lighting to illuminate the tree foliage, McClure said.

The contractor also will run irrigation lines for the crape myrtles, he said

DOTD has obtained extra rights of way to add more turning room at the intersections. A Landmark Bank ATM at La. 10 and Liberty Highway has been moved a few feet, while some of the Valero property was purchased for turning room at La. 10 and Plank Road.

Smith said a 6-inch curb will be installed where the sidewalk meets the road surface.

The original plans did not call for new pavement in the project area, but since they were drawn, the roadway has deteriorated and will be milled up and replaced, Smith said.

Smith also said the plans do not call for a traffic signal at Plank and La. 10, but Havard said he will request a traffic study to determine if a signal is needed.