BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards wrapped up his first week in office Friday, speaking before a room full of engineers at the Crisis Issues Summit. Edwards said the highlight of his first week as governor was that the White House is now discussing federal dollars to hopefully address Baton Rouge's traffic nightmare.
While President Barack Obama was in town, all interstates were shut down for his motorcade to pass, which is customary for any president. Edwards and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden were in the limo with the president when the mayor pointed out I-10 eastbound narrowing down to only one lane at the Washington St. exit.
"The president seemed surprised and of course everyone is surprised when they find out we have an interstate system in 2016 right in the heart of Baton Rouge that goes down to one travel lane," said Edwards.
On Friday, the governor said he and the Department of Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson heard from the White House Thursday night.
"What we've asked is to be considered for some of those freight dollars," said Dr. Wilson.
In Decemebr 2015, President Obama signed the FAST Act as it is called. Dr. Wilson said the federal government still has $800 million that needs to be spent on road construction across the country to better move freight. That's some of the money they're requesting.
"We've requested $100 million," said Dr. Wilson.
If the federal government provides the $100 million Louisiana has requested, Dr. Wilson said they will put that money towards expanding I-10 between I-49 in Lafayette and the Atchafalaya Basin to three lanes in each direction, instead of the current two lanes. Dr. Wilson said the money that is put towards that project currently would move to studies with the I-10 expansion between the new bridge and the I-10/I-12 split in Baton Rouge, including addressing the one lane only at the Washington Street exit.
In fact, if the $100 million is gr anted, Gov. Edwards said some of the money would be spent on:
- $20 million - Construct a new Washington St. exit
- $30 million - Studies for the railroad project connecting Baton Rouge to New Orleans
- $10 million - A new exit to go directly to the new terminal that's being built at the New Orleans airport
While all parties agree there is a major transportation issue in Baton Rouge, the governor said there is a $12 billion backlog for road projects in the entire state. Nevertheless, Dr. Wilson said they continue moving forward with studies for another bridge over the Mississippi River to try and provide some relief.