State announces I-10 expansion from the New Bridge to the split
BATON ROUGE – In potentially the most significant interstate development since the Horace Wilkinson Bridge was built in the 1960s, the state announced Friday it is moving forward with a sweeping widening project – expanding and adding additional lanes on I-10 between the Mississippi River and the I-10/I-12 split east of downtown.
Multiple sources confirmed the details to WBRZ Thursday on condition of anonymity, as the state was spearheading the announcement. The state formally announced the project at an 11:30 a.m. press conference Friday.
Any expansion would likely require additional rights-of-way along the I-10 corridor, most of it elevated in the section highlighted for work. While such moves might be seen by some as controversial, a state survey found nearly everyone agreed I-10 traffic contributes to a poor quality of life in Baton Rouge.
New construction would have to meet updated federal highway standards, including noise pollution in neighborhoods, business districts and across the lakes in Baton Rouge.
While the project will not include a new bridge, it is a serious step toward tackling the traffic issues that have plagued a short stretch of I-10, including an area where I-10 essentially becomes one lane. The only location along the interstate's 2,400 miles between Jacksonville, Florida, and Los Angeles, California, where traffic does not share two or more lanes is eastbound just after the Highland Road exit and the foot of the bridge in eyeshot of downtown Baton Rouge.
The slowdowns are notorious – forcing traffic congestion into West Baton Rouge and sometimes Iberville most weekday evenings and sometimes weekends.
The congestion proved deadly this past summer, as inattentive drivers slammed into vehicles ahead of them when they didn't realize traffic had come to a halt.
"It's the only place in the country where it reduces down to one lane, and we've got to do something about it," West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's deputy Lt. Ken Albarez said in an emotional tirade after a child died in 2017.
It seemed week after week, numerous rear-end collisions left people dead or severely injured in West Baton Rouge as traffic stopped due to gridlock in Baton Rouge, a few miles eastward on I-10.
Westbound congestion is just as problematic, especially in the morning as downtown workers hustle into the city from suburban areas of East Baton Rouge or outlying parishes.
In a recent interview with WBRZ, Albarez dreamed about a safer highway.
"They're going to have to add a lane to give another lane to I-10," he said.
It appears that may be happening.
Albarez hoped for a resolution to an area he's labeled the “Devil's Triangle.”
"I don't want to sound like a cliche, but how much is a human life worth?" he asked in September.
State and city officials refused to comment on the scheduled announcement Friday.
Though sources said the expansion would focus on lanes between the Horace Wilkinson, or “New Bridge,” and the split. It was not immediately clear how many new lanes would be added. It's expected state officials will reveal on Friday, the plans, cost and funding, along with any necessary further studies in addition to property needs essential to an expansion.
In a news release late Thursday, the governor's office said it was using bonds to fund the project- essentially taking loans on future federal highway money. The state will begin the administrative process to request GARVEE bonds, which allow the state to repay the debt with federal highway funds the state receives each year. The debt will be paid over 12 years. More will be released Friday, a spokesperson for Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Sources said the announcement is not one of an idea, but the revelation that a plan has been almost finalized.
When designed, the area of I-10 between the river and the split was set to accommodate 80,000 vehicles per day. By 2011, the actual daily use had doubled and experts predict an additional 46,000 vehicles will use the highway system in the next 14 years – a total of 201,500 vehicles per day by 2032.
Eighty-four percent of residents in five area parishes said no improvements will harm the community and 96% said conditions on I-10 need to improve to make travel safer.
In July 2016, the state issued a 46-page research paper on issues and possible solutions, in which interstate expansion was highlighted. In the findings, experts suggested adding one lane in each direction. The overall construction cost – after new lanes, repairs and updated exits and interchanges – was estimated at about $408 million.
I-10 was planned in the early 1950s, with construction starting in 1957. The last, large-scale link for the entire system was completed in 1990. I-10 is the fourth-longest highway system in the country.
News 2's Taylor Evans has more information.
WBRZ plans extensive coverage Friday, beginning on the WBRZ News 2 morning news program, 2une-In, and continuing throughout the day with an additional half-hour at 6:30. The launch of WBRZ News 2 at 6:30 was moved up from Monday to Friday to provide additional coverage of the announcement – Friday only, News 2 at 6:30 will be seen on WBRZ channel 2 and WBRZ+, the station's new, 24-hour local news cable channel.
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