washingtonstreet bf 0099.jpg

Robin Daigle, DOTD Environmental Impact Specialist, right, answers a question from Traci Johnson, left, who drives that portion of the interstate every day, at the Leo S. Butler Community Center where the state Department of Transportation and Development held an open house and information session on plans to open a new exit on Interstate 110-South at  Terrace Avenue. Access to the Washington Street exit will be limited to eastbound motorists leaving the new Mississippi River bridge.

Adding a new exit off Interstate 110 South will trim daily traffic tie-ups by preventing motorists from leaving the highway for Washington Street, Louisiana's transportation chief said Wednesday.

Instead, the new Terrace Avenue exit for southbound traffic will get motorists to the same area, and the Washington Street exit will be used only for eastbound traffic leaving the new Mississippi River bridge, officials said.

"You will no longer have traffic exiting off I-110 for Washington Street with Terrace," said Shawn Wilson, who is secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Wilson made his comments during a DOTD "open house" to show citizens what the plans look like. 

The session included a short film spelling out the changes, drawings and DOTD officials on hand to answer questions.

State officials say the reworked exits are an inexpensive way to ease backups, and eliminate the daily traffic weaving on one of the most heavily-traveled sections of interstate in Baton Rouge.

Drivers leaving the bridge are moving left onto I-10 at the same time others are leaving the interstate for the Washington Street exit.

Critics have long said that it is the only point on I-10 between California and Florida where the interstate narrows to one lane.

"It seems like a death trap," said Patsy Parker, who works in the area and attended the open house.

"I think it is a great idea," Parker said of the changes, which will cost about $20 million.

The project is undergoing a required environmental study now.

Wilson said he hopes work will get started by early 2018.

He said the project may be done in less than 18 months — an often cited estimate — depending on what firms pledge to get the work.

The fact the Washington Street exit will remain open after the work has sparked questions on whether some motorists on I-110 South would continue to use it and keep causing delays.

However, previous efforts to close the exit, including for a plan to widen I-10 from the bridge to the I-10/12 split, triggered a political firestorm from nearby residents.

The latest plan avoids a politically thorny topic while essentially closing it to southbound motorists on I-110.

Wilson said that can be done with signs, highways stripes and enforcement initially.

He said travelers from north Baton Rouge will see clear indications that the Terrace Avenue/Washington Street exit is ahead, on the left.

The new exit will be built on the left hand side of I-110 South.

Work will begin on the interstate over Myrtle Avenue, extend over Julia Street and intersect with Terrace Avenue, where motorists can turn left or right.

Lillie Gallagher, who lives around City Park, praised the project.

Gallagher said she takes her life in her hands now traveling around the Washington and nearby Dalrymple exits.

"And I don't think it is going to have an impact on residents, which is important to me," she said.

Some nearby residents are concerned about what  the new routes will mean for traffic on Terrace.

Regina Latimore, who has lived in the area for seven years, said there are already lots of cars and trucks on Terrace, and likely to be lots more when the new exit opens.

"Are they going to set up speed bumps?" she asked.

Traci Johnson, who lives off Government Street, raised the same concern.

"I just have a couple of questions," she said.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge,  was positive about the proposal.

"I am hoping it is going to alleviate some of that congestion," Smith said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.