Sixth District Congressman Garret Graves said Tuesday that state highway leaders are showing a lack of foresight by proposing to widen Interstate 10 without the $350 million to pay for it.
Doing so, Graves said, “is a bit myopic.”
He added later, “Keep in mind you are talking about $350 million that you don’t have and you don’t have your eyes on.”
The Baton Rouge Republican made the comments during an hourlong meeting with the editorial board of The Advocate.
At issue is a proposal by the state Department of Transportation and Development to add a new lane in each direction between the I-10 bridge and the I-10/12 split.
DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas has said the expansion along the four-mile corridor could be done in stages of $30 million to $50 million.
Asked about Graves’ comments, LeBas said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Interstate 49 in north Louisiana is a $670 million project that is being done in sections, including 18.9 miles that opened in 2013 and 10 miles in 2014.
“It’s important to have plans for when funding becomes available,” LeBas said.
“If we had the public backing and had finished the planning stages of the I-10 widening in the 1990s and 2000s when first proposed, then this project could be well on its way,” she said.
Graves made his comments prior to the second of three public meetings on ways to ease traffic congestion between the bridge and the split.
The freshman congressman said he met with DOTD officials on Tuesday morning, has known LeBas for years and that she is working under “tight parameters” to finance better roads and bridges.
He said state and local officials need to ponder a variety of options, including long-term solutions.
“I don’t think there is an alternative to building another bridge crossing,” he said. “We can improve access but ultimately we need a new bridge crossing.”
A new bridge across the Mississippi River would cost an estimated $800 million.
A bid to finance that and other projects statewide was buried in the Legislature earlier this year.
In the short term, Graves repeated his view that work needs to be done near the Washington Street exit to improve eastbound traffic leaving the I-10 bridge.
Staggered times for leaving work at petrochemical plants, other major businesses and the roughly 7,000 state employees downtown could also help, he said.
Graves said he is working with leaders of the five parishes that make up the Baton Rouge metropolitan area on funding priorities.
He said federal transportation dollars — the bulk of the money for roads and bridges — usually arrives in the state in a block grant and have “largely excluded the capital region.”
Graves said Baton Rouge “has been outpoliticked for decades” and that a united effort of business and political leaders is needed for transportation improvements.