Anxious residents got their first detailed look Tuesday night at state plans to widen Interstate 10 between the Mississippi River bridge and the I-10/12 split.

The gathering, the first of three meetings this week, included a 30-minute overview of the project by officials of the state Department of Transportation and Development, and a chance for members of the public to study maps and exhibits and ask questions.

"It is not necessarily our choice," Shawn Wilson, secretary for DOTD, told about 200 residents who gathered in the auditorium at McKinley Middle Magnet School.

"We want your input," Wilson said.

The work includes new lanes in each direction along the 3 1/2 mile corridor, one of the most congested in the Baton Rouge area.

"While it is hard to believe congestion can get worse, it can," Wilson said. "Doing nothing is not an option."

But the project is sparking push-back.

East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court Judge Pamela J. Baker, who lives on Fiero Street, said she faces a huge problem at her home.

"If you widen the interstate we can't live there," Baker said. "They said it is acceptable. It is not."

Plans for a sound wall, she said, would only add to the mess.

"And it is not going to solve Baton Rouge's problem," she added. 

Al Phillips backs the project.

"They should have done it 20 years ago," Phillips said, a reference to a $200 million widening plan that died nearly two decades ago.

But Phillips said Baton Rouge also needs a loop to route big trucks and other traffic around the city, like most similarly-sized cities have.

Joshua Joseph, who lives on Fiero Street two doors from Baker, said the I-10 expansion is needed but he is worried about the work, and what it could mean for his six-year-old child's ability to play outside.

"It would have some impact," Joseph said.

DOTD officials said Monday that at least 17 homes and four businesses will be impacted by the construction, including the popular Overpass Merchant restaurant on Perkins Road.

Ross Reilly, co-owner of the building that houses the restaurant, said he thinks it will remain in its current location, with only some awning being removed during the widening work.

Reilly said foot traffic – customers navigating construction – is expected to be the biggest impact of the work.

Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for DOTD, said while the building can remain during construction an extension to it, as well as the awning, will have to be removed.

What impact the work will have on restaurant operations is unclear.

Business owners in the Perkins Road overpass area have long been among the most vocal opponents of widening I-10.

But DOTD officials said they are working with merchants to minimize the effects to their businesses.

Metro Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg, who attended the meeting, said when the plans first surfaced she got lots of calls from constituents but not many lately.

"I think they have done a good job of explaining what they are doing," Freiberg said of DOTD officials. "I think the Perkins Road merchants feel better."

Some left the meeting undecided.

Gigi Grimes, who lives in University Gardens, said she understands the need for traffic relief.

"But let's just be real careful how we do it," Grimes said.

Larry Pitcher, who lives on Utah Street, about 100 yards west of I-10, said he is torn on the project.

The work is needed, he said.

But 40- and 50-year-old homes that already suffer from vibrations from daily interstate traffic will face more damage, Pitcher said.

His home needs work but he is hesitant about making the investment.

"I am undecided on where I need to go with this," Pitcher said.

The project is being launched even as Louisiana has a roughly $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, and a state gasoline tax that has not been changed in nearly three decades.

A bid by the Edwards administration to boost the tax by up to 17 cents per gallon, and raise about $510 million per year, failed in the Legislature last year.

The work would be financed through a borrowing plan using what is called Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds, or GARVEE bonds.

Becca Behrnes called the expansion unnecessary.

"Financially it costs too much and I don't believe it is going to relieve the traffic congestion like they say it will," she said.

Under the plan, the state would repay the money over 12 years using a portion of annual federal aid for state road and bridge projects.

The I-10 widening in Baton Rouge is scheduled to start next year and take 5-7 years to finish.

Wilson has said at least three lanes of traffic will be open during construction, with the work being done in phases of between six months and three years. 

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.