Whether an $800 million “inner loop” toll road proposal around Baton Rouge is feasible enough to keep pursuing will be up for discussion on Oct. 20 by a key state committee.
The long-shot plan, which surfaced in January, is called the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan, or BUMP.
It would link interstates 10, 12 and 110 as well as U.S. 61 and U.S. 190 in a high-speed route around always-congested Baton Rouge.
The unsolicited idea was offered earlier this year by AECOM, a worldwide Fortune 500 firm that paid $50,000 to get the review process started.
The little-known Louisiana Transportation Authority, which reviews megaproject proposals, then authorized the state Department of Transportation and Development to launch an economic feasibility study.
Jeff Burst, project management director for DOTD, said Wednesday that the study will be presented to the LTA next month. “They (LTA) will then deliberate and decide if they believe it is an economically feasible project based on the guidelines in the statute,” Burst said.
The nine-member panel can toss out the plan, call for more time to review it or conclude that it should move to the next step, which would be for DOTD to advertise for proposals.
Even if proposals are sought, Burst said, it is no guarantee that a loop will happen. “There are many off-ramps, both for the private partners and the LTA,” he said.
The proposal is called a public/private partnership.
That means a private firm — possibly AECOM — builds the road, then contracts with the state on how to recoup its costs, plus a profit.
Tolls are envisioned as a key revenue source.
However, like other big road and bridge plans around Baton Rouge, this one faces daunting political and financial hurdles.
Part of the criteria on which the LTA evaluates the plan includes how local jurisdictions would be affected.
City-parish leaders, who have pushed for a full-scale loop around Baton Rouge, may view BUMP as the death-knell for any such effort, which has long been plagued by lack of financing and other problems.
Public need is another part of the LTA review, and Baton Rouge area residents often disagree on how and where roads should be improved.
The proposed loop would extend for 23 miles from I-10 near Pecue Lane in East Baton Rouge Parish, along a drastically overhauled Airline Highway and across the U.S. 190 Bridge to a point on I-10 about 4 miles west of the La. 415 interchange in West Baton Rouge Parish.
One of the key features is a redone Airline Highway that would include a four-lane freeway that allows speeds of up to 70 mph.
The economic feasibility study was done by HNTB Corp., a national consulting firm.
“We hired them as our independent advisers as required by the state law and LTA guidelines,” Burst said.
“They don’t say good or bad,” Burst said of the project. “They present findings and answer questions from the LTA, from board members.”
State Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, who touted the plan during the 2014 legislative session, said Wednesday that he is optimistic the proposal will move to the next step. Foil noted that the toll road is the top priority of the Capitol Region Legislative Delegation and that lawmakers need to convey that view to the LTA next month.
DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas, a member of the LTA, was out of the state Wednesday and unavailable for comment, according to Rodney Mallett, a spokesman for DOTD.
Robert Schmidt, a Baton Rouge engineer who works for AECOM and is the local contact for the plan, generally declined comment Wednesday on the status of the proposal.
Schmidt noted that, if the plan moves to the next step where DOTD solicits proposals, advertisements would be required rather than simply designating AECOM to do the work.
That advertising process would take at least three months, Burst said.