Expanding Interstate 10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/12 split will take at least five years to complete, Louisiana’s transportation chief said Friday.
Also, the plan envisions a new lane in each direction, both the on and off-ramps at Perkins Road being closed permanently, and an eastbound ramp being added at Dalrymple Drive, officials said.
The $350 million project is the biggest part of Gov. John Bel Edwards $600 million transportation plan, which he spelled out Friday and that relies on federal bonds as the key funding source.
The work also includes up to $110 million to connect I-10 at Loyola Drive with the soon-to-be-expanded Louisiana Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, part of a $963 million project that Mayor Mitch Landrieu called historic.
“As they say in New Orleans, if you can’t find a way you make one,” Landrieu said of the innovative financing planned for the projects.
Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the I-10 widening will take “several years” because he wants to keep at least two lanes open to traffic, slowing construction progress.
The state hopes to start work on the I-10 expansion in Baton Rouge and other plans in 2019.
Wilson said five years to do the widening is a minimum and said it might be seven.
Aside from the expansion of the interstate, work is needed repairing surface damage on the roughly 60-year-old roadway, DOTD officials said.
The corridor is one of the most heavily congested – and complained about – in the Baton Rouge area.
About 180,000 cars and trucks cross the bridge daily.
The announcement, which took place at The Water Campus on River Road, featured the Mississippi River bridge in the background, including stalled mid-day traffic.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sharon Weston Broome called I-10 widening momentous.
“The improvement is desperately needed for our region and parish,” Broome said.
The parish, using credits from previous transactions with the state, will put up $12 million to help with construction costs.
The five-parish Capital Region Planning Commission is chipping in $24 million.
The on-ramp at Dalrymple Drive would not cross city and university lakes, officials said.
What they envision is an eastbound offshoot near the current, westbound on-ramp onto I-10.
Residents in the area have long said an eastbound on-ramp to I-10 would damage the flavor of the area, which is near LSU.
However, a new on-ramp would ease traffic on heavily-used Morning Glory, which connects with Stanford Avenue and Acadian Thruway.
The plan is also expected to spark concerns from residents and business owners in the Perkins Road overpass area, which have vehemently opposed similar proposals in the past.
Barbara Freiberg, the District 12 Metro Councilwoman who represents the area, said DOTD leaders “will be sensitive to the concerns to the neighbors who will be affected by the construction.”
“But is is important for the city,” Freiberg said of the widening work.
Wilson said the state owns 85 percent of the needed right-of-way on that part of I-10.
Others said that, despite concerns from business owners around the Perkins Road overpass, the work can be done with minimal impact on restaurants and bars.
The key to the outline is the state’s plan to use federal bonds to essentially get an advance on federal dollars, then repay the money from yearly federal allocations over 12 years.
They are called Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds, or GARVEE bonds.
Wilson said 25 states have used the method to build $20 billion in transportation upgrades.
He said he is confident of federal approval for the financing method, and hopes to have a memorandum of understanding with U. S. officials in the next few months.
Edwards alluded to the unusual financing when he noted that a bid to boost the state gasoline tax 17 cents per gallon – $510 million per year – died in the Legislature last year.
“That is regrettable,” he said. “But that can’t stop us from doing the best we can do.”
Some highway advocates said the gas tax hike failed in part because of reluctance by the GOP-controlled Legislature to let Democrat Edwards take credit for always popular road and bridge improvements.
Edwards faces re-election in 2019.
The governor’s push is aimed at getting around the state’s inability to raise more road and bridge money.
The formerly $13 billion backlog is now $13.9 billion, Edwards said.
Aside from federal scrutiny, the proposal faces reviews by the Joint Legislative Transportation Committee and the State Bond Commission.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, were among local officials who heaped praise on the governor’s proposal.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni noted that the I-10 work in Kenner will allow both westbound and eastbound motorists easy access to the airport off the interstate.
“That is huge for our region,” Yenni said.
Adam Knapp, president of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the importance of the announcement was highlighted by the turnout, including bank and hospital presidents, LSU President F. King Alexander and others.
The two other projects on the $600 million plan are:
The state hopes to make that a private/public partnership, with private firms paying most of the $122 million in exchange for toll revenue.