Despite failed efforts in past, DOTD official sees 'momentum building' to widen I-10 between bridge, I-10/12 split _lowres


Reopening a volatile topic, Louisiana transportation leaders said Monday that they want to get public comments for adding lanes on Interstate 10 between the new Mississippi River bridge and the I-10/12 split.

“What we are looking at is adding a lane in each direction, eastbound and westbound, and what are the best ways and are there ways to improve the interchanges,” said Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Similar lane-widening efforts have failed in the past because of political opposition, lack of funds and other obstacles.

However, LeBas said she thinks things have changed.

“I believe there is more public engagement than there was before,” she said Monday. “I also believe that there is more engagement from legislators and local officials for this area, so I think there is momentum building now.”

She added, “If people will come to the meeting with an open mind and work with us, that is all we are asking. We want to have a conversation. We want to work with people.”

LeBas made her comments in advance of public hearings to discuss options for traffic relief on one of the most congested sections of often-congested Baton Rouge.

The first hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31, at the Baton Rouge River Center.

A second session is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the Port Allen Community Center.

The final one is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Baton Rouge.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said he has reservations about any push to add new lanes on I-10.

“My first concern, at this point, is that you are talking about an estimated $350 million project and there is not funding that has been identified for this,” said Graves, a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

He said short-term fixes can offer motorists relief, including carving out an additional eastbound lane between the bridge and the Washington Street exit to improve traffic.

LeBas said that, in addition to possible work near the Washington Street exit, widening or replacing the bridges over the LSU lakes will be up for discussion.

Noise walls along the route are another option.

Daily traffic on the bridge shot up 15 percent from 2010 to 2013, to 102,000 cars and trucks per day.

However, efforts to find answers to the delays have eluded state leaders.

LeBas announced in November 2011 that the state would seek public input on ways to improve traffic along the 4-mile route.

But a year later, those plans were dropped.

LeBas said at the time that possible changes were too expensive, especially amid continuing state financial problems.

In 2001, a bid to widen I-10 for about $200 million died amid opposition from Perkins Road Overpass business owners, residents of the Washington Street area and others.

Perkins Road critics said the widening work would destroy one of Baton Rouge’s most distinctive areas, including drugstores, restaurants and bars.

“I believe that we can do those improvements with minimum impact on that area,” LeBas said of the Perkins Road Overpass area.

“I am not saying there will not be any impact,” she said. “A building or two or three. But we believe that we can have minimal impact and in some cases enhancements.”

The talks will be launched amid continuing state financial problems and a $12 billion backlog of state road and bridge projects.

LeBas said that, if there is agreement on a plan, it could be financed in manageable stages of $30 million to $50 million each from a variety of funding sources.

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