Although a study of state transportation needs is barely underway, the Baton Rouge area already is in line for two long-sought projects that will ease daily traffic tie-ups.
A plan to relocate the Washington Street exit, with a price tag of about $20 million, already is in the works to reduce massive backups near the Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 10.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that the state will widen I-10 from Highland Road in Baton Rouge to La. 73 in Ascension Parish at a cost of about $60 million.
Nearly 80,000 motorists use that corridor daily.
In a boost for motorists, the state of Louisiana will add one new lane in each direction on …
Neither represents the kind of game-changer undertaking that a task force named by Edwards is supposed to come up with, like building a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.
But both represent modest steps aimed at tackling daily complaints from motorists who say they cannot get around in Baton Rouge.
"Very small in terms of dollars but very large in terms of impact," said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Area lawmakers, hungry for positive news after a summer of record flooding and other problems, heaped praise on the I-10 widening project.
"It is going to make a tremendous amount of difference between Highland Road and La. 73," said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and a candidate for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish.
In recent years, Baton Rouge has gained from major roadwork, including new lanes in each direction from the I-10/12 split to Highland Road and on Interstate 12 from the split to Satsuma.
However, major problems remain here and elsewhere.
Coast-to-coast interstate traffic narrows to one lane near the Mississippi River bridge, the only such spot on a 2,460-mile roadway.
Traffic backups between Ascension Parish and eastward and Baton Rouge remain a sore spot.
"These are the types of projects that we absolutely need to be moving on," said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican who was instrumental in the federal financing for the Washington Street exit relocation and the I-10 widening.
The plan to reduce congestion near the Mississippi River bridge stems from a federal grant the state landed in July, the fourth highest in the U.S.
The $60 million federal grant that Louisiana is getting for transportation improvements, inc…
Widening I-10 from Highland Road eastward was ranked the top priority in a study by Crisis, a business group that backs transportation improvements.
"From a cost-benefit standpoint, it was certainly the best project that we looked at and maybe the best project in the state with the level of investment," said Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of Crisis.
The Crisis study looked at widening I-10 from Highland Road to Sorrento -- 18 miles -- which would cost $180 million.
The state plan will add a new lane in each direction over nearly 7 miles and supposedly save 15-20 minutes for a typical commute.
It will be done with money cobbled out of federal earmarks from a 2015 federal law that gave Wilson and others new spending authority.
Doing so will allow a major expansion project despite Louisiana's $12.7 billion backlog that helped spark Edwards' transportation task force.
A study touted as the forerunner to the most sweeping overhaul of Louisiana's roads and brid…
"I would say it is one of the biggest projects to be announced as far as transportation in our area in many, many years," said state Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales and among the state lawmakers who attended Edwards' announcement.
Berthelot said adding new lanes in each direction will ease problems at La. 73.
"When you start approaching that intersection, it just stops," he said. "There are so many people trying to get on the interstate."
"And it is going to give our residents an opportunity for a better quality of life and not have to take an hour to get to work when it should take 20 or 25 minutes," he said.
How long the two projects will take is unclear.
Environmental studies and other work will take 18 months as part of the replacement of the Washington Street exit with one closer to downtown -- the Terrace Street off-ramp.
"We think that is going to make a huge impact on comfortable driving," Wilson told radio host Jim Engster on Thursday.
Work on the I-10 widening is one year away. How long it will take is unclear.
Not everyone is enthused about the expansion.
Some motorists questioned why the state did not add new lanes in each direction to Sorrento.
Money is the culprit, officials said.
Barry Blanchard, who lives in Prairieville, said in an email that the road expansion will not play out the way DOTD officials claim.
Blanchard said when traffic flows, the Highland Road exit is backed up, and when I-10 traffic is backed up, the off-ramp is empty.
"Until DOTD does something with the intersection of I-10 and Highland, widening the interstate will not help," he wrote.
Wilson said the state plans to tackle the interchange when money is available.
"If we modify the interchange significantly, we would have to wait well into 2018 to move forward," Wilson said, also in an email.