Lawmakers consider toll road around Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A new plan being tossed around by lawmakers at the Louisiana State Capitol would call for a toll road around Baton Rouge and some say if approved, the project could be operational within five years.

Commuters like Lisa Shelmire, a nurse who sometimes only has minutes to get to work, said they would pay a toll to avoid sitting on the interstate after an accident.

"It's very congested," said Shelmire. "You cannot move. It's just incredible."

"When there's a wreck on the interstate, it shuts Baton Rouge down," said state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge.

He and other lawmakers from the Baton Rouge region approached Gov. Bobby Jindal about a plan to build a toll road that would ultimately start at I-10 in the Prairieville area, travel up Airline Highway and then across the Huey P. Long Bridge (Old Bridge) before reconnecting to I-10 in West Baton Rouge Parish. The project, which is estimated at a price tag of up to a billion dollars, would be funded up front by private dollars and repaid with toll funds.

"It just gives people options. You don't have to take this toll way. You can still use the interstate or service road, but in order to build this project, we can get a private contractor to come and pay the majority of the costs," Foil added.

Phase one of the project would include the portion of the toll road from I-12 to the Huey P. Long Bridge (Old Bridge).

Opponents argue the toll idea would be a crushing blow to businesses on Airline Highway. However, Foil said daily volume would still remain.

"Airline Highway is already in place and so, you put toll lanes down the middle of Airline Highway and still keep on the side a service road, which will be free, so people can still travel down Airline Highway without paying a toll," Foil explained.

Foil said he still favors a full loop around Baton Rouge but added a toll road would help provide more immediate relief. Drivers like Shelmire said they would have no problem shelling out the extra green to keep from seeing red.

"It's time to expand Baton Rouge. It needs to be expanded," said Shelmire.

Foil said the Capitol Region Delegation is requesting about $3.5 million from Jindal's budget to pay for an in-depth study of the project. The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) said an extensive review of the toll road idea would take about 18 to 24 months.

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