Baton Rouge group encouraged as governor's candidates pledge to find solutions to road, bridge problems _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Aerial of eastbound traffic on the New Bridge in Baton Rouge, Tuesday, September 1, 2015, as drivers navigate around a stalled 18-wheeler approaching the Washington Street exit at bottom left.

The driver heading to Baton Rouge who bumps along the badly deteriorated stretch of Interstate 10 between Lafayette and the Atchafalaya Basin then can look forward to the often-standstill traffic at the Washington Street exit in the capital city.

Those are two of Louisiana’s worst highway problems that, with initiative from state and federal leaders and some judicious shifting of money, will one day be dramatically improved for drivers.

Louisiana will receive $60 million in federal grant money to fast-track a few major road projects in south Louisiana, including the relocation of the Washington Street exit off Interstate 10 near the Mississippi River bridge.

The grant money will directly fund the Lafayette-area project on Interstate 10, already on track for construction. Pavement replacement and added lanes will be huge benefits for the traffic on the highway.

By supplanting those state dollars with federal dollars, state money is freed up to speed up a handful of other projects — like the Washington Street exit — that were slogging along.

Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said that thanks to the grant, Louisiana will have funds to complete the relocation of the Washington Street exit. This project is expected to be opened up for construction bid by early 2018, maybe sooner.

“Whether it’s morning or afternoon, it’s a very, very dangerous intersection, and it’s created ungodly bottlenecking for years and years and years,” East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden said.

We agree and it is a national problem that Louisiana officials pointed out to President Barack Obama when he visited in January. As with most major public works projects, this victory has many fathers.

DOTD sought $100 million under a competitive grant program in the new highway bill, including a key provision authored by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge. It’s a big win for the freshman member, but of course he had a lot of help from the Louisiana delegation’s senior members, who also applauded the grant.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and DOTD can now free dollars for designing a reconstructed interchange at Loyola Avenue for the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, improving railroad crossings on the freight-rail corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and advancing the design plans of the Interstate 20/220 interchange into Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City.

Louisiana’s drivers will be better off for this initiative, and we congratulate all those making it possible.

But for all the benefits it provides, they would not exist were the state not investing its own resources into roads, bridges and rails. Edwards has set up a task force looking at ways to finance the big projects — such as a new bridge over the Mississippi, or completing Interstate 49 to New Orleans — that require a lot more than $60 million.

Adam Knapp, president of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, pointed that out: “Traffic congestion isn’t fixed by one project but by many mega-projects on many transportation modes over many years.”

That’s our future challenge.