BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards announced a new project aimed at reducing traffic congestion on a stretch of I-10 between East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes during a press conference Tuesday.
The governor announced that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has already started planning a Design-Build solicitation for widening project of I-10 from Highland Road in East Baton Rouge Parish to LA 73 (Prairieville) in Ascension Parish.
The plan is to add a lane to both sides, expanding the seven-mile stretch from four lanes to six.
"We've begun some of the preliminary planning, and it is one of the most efficient project that comply with the federal requirements," said Dr. Shawn Wilson, the head of DOTD.
Wilson estimates the project will cost upwards of $60 million. Approximately $40 million of that will come from reallocating grant money already assigned to stalled projects.
"We took a hard look at the language included in the FAST ACT and determined how best to use this to our advantage without hurting any community or project," Wilson said.
Wilson added that using the federal money will free up regular highway funds.
"It should be noted that if we do not use these funds it is very likely that they would be swept away and sent to other states," Edwards said. "And that's why we want to take advantage of this authority that we have under the federal FAST ACT to make sure that we do not lose these funds."
Officials said a Design-Build method streamlines the process, because the same contractor both designs and constructs the expanded roadway. The state has used the Design-Build model before, and it should take three or four months' worth of work off the project as well save on money, according to the governor.
State leaders also hope to elevate part of the roadway during the construction. During the historic August flooding, segments of the interstate took on several inches of water forcing those areas to be blocked off.
"One of the goals will be to making sure that that same stretch of interstate that we had to close in August because of the flooding does not have to get closed going forward," Edwards said.
Wilson said they will begin going through applications in the spring and will finalize a contract by next summer. He also said the public should see cement being laid within a year.
Not all businesses are thrilled by the proposal. The Olive Tree Café near the Prairieville exit fears that traffic caused by construction could turn away customers.
"They want to get their food, they want to sit down, they want to eat, they don't want to spend 30 minutes in traffic. It's going to hurt small businesses around here," said Julia Hamilton, a server at the Olive Tree Café.
Meanwhile, some customers at the café cheered the project, saying that traffic can be very bad on that particular section of the interstate. Still they wish the widening project would extend even further.
"A lot of tourism is in that area, they go to the plantations, you have the plant traffic and school traffic," Cindy Cangiolosi said.
Wilson, meanwhile, admitted that the focus of the efforts should perhaps instead be elsewhere.
"We'd much rather be building and widening I-10 from the bridge to the split, the reality is that project is not there," Wilson said.
However, the state does not own all of the land around the stretch of roadway near the bridge.
The state does own the right-of-way around the seven-mile section between Highland and Highway 73, expediting the project.