Desperate for affordable fixes to daily traffic problems near the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge, Gov. John Bel Edwards and other state, federal and local officials Monday broke ground on a "game changer" project touted as a way to make life easier for motorists.
The $8.8 million plan will create a new, Terrace Avenue exit left off Interstate 110 South.
Doing so, officials said, will reduce daily traffic tie-ups caused by motorists crossing multiple lanes of traffic, against eastbound motorists leaving the bridge, to get to the Washington Street exit.
The new route off the interstate will allow travelers to get to the Washington Street area using the Terrace Avenue exit.
U. S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said the project is far more significant than the pricetag would indicate.
"This is a game changer," Graves said. "This is laying the groundwork for eliminating a 40-year-old problem."
Graves referred to the fact that, for years, the population of the Baton Rouge area has overgrown its interstates, with daily traffic tie-ups on and near the bridge at the top of the frustration list for many motorists.
"By laying the groundwork to fix the bottleneck, the stage is being set for a new Mississippi River crossing and a regional traffic solution," he said later in a statement.
Edwards said the new exit represents a major upgrade. "This is significant in terms of safety but also traffic flow," he said.
"Improving the transportation infrastructure for our citizens is a top commitment and priority for my administration, and the I-110 corridor is vital to both East Baton Parish and the state," Edwards said.
However, the governor emphasized that the new exit, as well as plans to widen I-10 from the bridge to the I-10/12 split, will not take away the need for a new bridge across the Mississippi River, south of the current one.
How to pay for it remains unclear, especially after a bid to boost Louisiana's gas tax died last year. The state has a nearly $14 billion backlog of road and bridge projects. A bridge would cost at least $1 billion.
The exit is being financed with federal dollars the state landed in a national competition. The pricetag is about half of initial estimates.
Work on the new exit is set to start on Aug. 23 and be finished by July 2019, Edwards said.
Under the plan, the Washington Street exit will be used solely by motorists leaving the bridge. Signs and stripes will direct southbound traffic on I-110 to Terrace Avenue/Washington Street.
The project is modest by state standards.
But it sparked a big turnout of government officials because Baton Rouge traffic, especially on and near the bridge, is a hot button topic.
Besides Edwards and Graves others on hand were Mayor-President Sharon Broome, Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, House Transportation Committee Chairman Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, state Reps. Patricia Smith, Ted James and Edmond Jordan, all Baton Rouge Democrats, state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, Metro Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg and Metro Councilman Matt Watson.
Broome said the work will address an "infamous" stretch of interstate.
Wilson said getting southbound traffic off at Terrace Avenue will reduce the "weaving" of vehicles across the interstate that goes on now.
He said about 98,000 cars and trucks use the corridor daily.
No lane closings are planned during the work, Wilson said.
Earlier this year Edwards announced plans to widen I-10 from the bridge to near Essen Lane, another source of backups.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' proposal to launch $600 million in road improvements, including about $350 million to widen Interstate 10 in Baton Roug…
That $350 million project would be financed with federal bonds paid off with a yearly portion of federal aid for state roads and bridges.
Public sessions to spell out those plans are set for Aug. 28, 29 and 30.
The Terrace Avenue plans have been discussed for about three years.
DOTD officials held an "open house" in October 2016 to let residents know what the changes will mean.
Smith, whose House legislative district includes the site of the project, said the effort is bittersweet because earlier interstate work upended neighborhoods, including her own high school.
"This is progress," she said of the latest undertaking.
Construction of the exit ramp will begin on I-110 over Myrtle Avenue. It will be extended over Julia Street to intersect with Terrace Avenue.