Roads (copy)

Advocate file photo

The state is getting an unexpected $76 million in federal transportation money, including aid for an accident-prone stretch of Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish, state officials said Friday.

The money is coming from road and bridge dollars that went unused by other states.

It marks the 19th consecutive year that Louisiana has picked up unspent highway dollars from other states.

More than half the money – $42 million – will finance a third lane in each direction on I-12 between U.S. Hwy. 190 and La. Hwy. 59, roughly three miles.

It also includes new bridges over U.S. Hwy. 190 and Ponchitolawa Creek/Tammany Trace, according to Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The parish is contributing $8 million.

Last year the state got $25 million from the federal government to widen I-12 near the site of a four-person fatality in 2018.

On May 26, 2018 four people were killed and others injured in an accident involving 18-wheelers on I-12 near Covington.

After the crash the parish partnered with the state Department of Transportation and Development to seek federal grant money to help finance smaller portions of that overall widening project.

The parish put up $7.2 million and DOTD agreed to chip in $3.8 million. That $36 million was enough to tackle the smaller portion of I-12 between U.S. 190 and La. Hwy. 21 in the Covington area, which includes the bridge over the Tchefuncte River, a chronic traffic chokepoint.

The latest round of money will finance improvements in the same area.

Wilson said he would not call the highway dangerous.

"Those accidents are random," he said.

When the expansion will be done is unclear.

Wilson said he expects a contract will be awarded in the next few months and the bidding project will determine how long the upgrade takes.

A third phase on I-12 is planned after that between La. Hwy. 1077 and U.S. 190.

Widening I-12 through western St. Tammany Parish has been a front-burner issue for elected officials in recent years, but took on new significance in the wake of the fiery crash last year.

The parish wants to add lanes to the stretch between La. 21 and La. Hwy. 59, but the cost – estimates range from $90 million to $120 million – has been a stumbling block.

Louisiana qualified for the money this year by allocating its full allotment of federal aid for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, and having the needed matching dollars.

Last year was thought to be the last time the state would qualify because of an expected lack of matching dollars amid a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.

"This award is a testament to the proven track record this administration has had to advance, prioritize and improve our state's infrastructure," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement.

The money will also finance bridge improvements at five sites, including the Amite River bridge on La. Hwy. 16 near French Settlement in Livingston Parish.

Improvements are also set for Bayou Bouef bridge on La. Hwy. 106 in Avoyelles Parish and three bridges on La. Hwy. 1042 east of Greensburg in St. Helena Parish.

Problems with rural bridges statewide, including dozens that have been taken out of circulation, is a recurring issue.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who announced the $76 million addition, said the $60 million Pecue Lane project might benefit from the aid.

That work includes widening Pecue Lane from two lanes to four between Perkins Road and Airline Highway, replacing the Pecue Lane bridge and creating an interchange with Interstate 10.

But the project got $16 million last year when the state landed $80 million in leftover dollars from other states, officials noted.

The timing of the construction also did not make sense this time, they said.

Fred Raiford, director of transportation and drainage for East Baton Rouge Parish, said Friday he is optimistic that Pecue Lane will benefit from other federal aid in the next few months.

Graves is a member of the U. S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Staff writer Bob Warren contributed to this report.

Email Will Sentell at