BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Mayor Kip Holden announced big changes for Government Street in Baton Rouge, as it will be the first major roadway to benefit from being transferred from the state of Louisiana to East Baton Rouge Parish.
Holden said Government Street will be redesigned from four travel lanes to two travel lanes with a continuous two-way left turn lane in the middle and a dedicated bicycle lane in each direction.
The project will cover Government Street from I-110 to Lobdell Avenue. The estimated cost is between $6 million and $8 million. The total cost is being covered by state funds.
"I've always believed if there are problems with traffic flow or safety, the public doesn't care if it's a state or local road - they just want it fixed," Holden said. "That's why with both the Green Light Program and this transfer, our goal has been to address our most critical needs."
The project is the result of an agreement with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. It was recently approved by the Metro Council.
Mayor Holden says the city is also concentrating on getting more businesses to locate or relocate to the area. Many MidCity merchants hope the transformation creates a pedestrian-friendly district similar to Magazine Street in New Orleans.
"This may be the greatest day in my life," said Gordon Mese. "I've been working for Government Street and the revitalization of it for 28 years when we opened up our nursery."
Mese owns Garden District Nursery and ran for mayor partially on the Government Street proposal.
"I think it's going to mean an increase in wealth for the property owners and an increase in revenue for the city-parish. It's going to create really the environment that Government is supposed to have," Mese said.
But not everyone is convinced.
"The proposed plan I think is plain stupidity," said Frank Masanz. He's been driving down Government Street for 52 years.
"It's already congested. What are they going to do when it's one lane each direction? They're gonna be bumper to bumper," Masanz said.
Holden says their studies show otherwise.
"Not in one case that's been pointed out to us have we seen it having a negative effect of making it more congested. If we see where there may be congestion, we'll make the adjustments as we need them, but the basic concept with remain," he said.
"For the naysayers I'll say look at the street intellectually. It is a three-lane street posing as a four-lane street, because those two center lanes are always a left turn lane. It will not change the flow at all, but it will make it a lot safer and more usable," Mese said.
Holden's office says Government Street currently carries about 24,000 vehicles a day, and typically sees about 270 car crashes per year. The mayor expects the redesign to greatly reduce those crashes.