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Officials say progress being made in plan for new Mississippi River bridge, but location decision still years away

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BATON ROUGE - State officials say there is small progress being made in getting a new bridge over the Mississippi River.

The Capital Area Road and Bridge District met Monday to get an update from DOTD on what initial steps have been taken and about the potential economic impact of a new bridge.

DOTD finalized its $5 million contract with Atlas Technical Consultants in the first week of July. The project management company is a few months into its first phase of "enhanced planning." The goal of this phase is to narrow down potential locations for a bridge.

A series of traffic and environmental studies are beginning to take shape as part of the proposed plan to build a new bridge to help alleviate local traffic congestion.

"We've made significant progress to date in I guess two and a half months,” Kara Moree with Atlas said.

Moree said Atlas will use these new studies and data collected in previous studies as they work with DOTD on the project. On Monday, both provided an update at the capital.

Atlas is drafting criteria for the potential bridge and the roads leading up to it. The drafts include the five crossing points that have been previously studied by DOTD, all of which connect La. Hwy. 1 on the west side of the river with La. Hwy. 30 on the east side.

Paul Vaught, assistant bridge design administrator for DOTD, said they're also looking at a few new potential crossing points in the same area.

"As significant as a project as this will be to the region, it's imperative to ensure that whatever location that we choose has been thoroughly considered and vetted,” Vaught said.

Atlas has nearly two years to narrow down potential crossing locations to three. The final selection of a location could take another two years, meaning actual construction is nearly four years away, at the earliest.

DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said its early in the process, and the progress being made on time still leaves lots to work through.

"None of this speaks to the financial plan for the bridge in terms of what we need to do for that. And other aspects whether it's on La. 30 and La. 1, 415. Projects are still moving forward that are going to be essential in making the bridge a success,” Wilson said.

The board also got an initial economic impact report by Loren C. Scott & Associates, Inc., at the Monday meeting.

The report mostly outlined the positive gains that can come with building a bridge by using economic development around the interstate bridges in Baton Rouge and Lakes Charles as examples.

"So, your conclusion says that the Wilkinson Bridge (new MSR bridge) in effect facilitated the expansion of basic industries on both sides of the river, which increased employment, which increased per capita income, increased residencies, etc.?” CARBD board chairman Jay Campbell asked.

“Exactly,” Scott said.

“So that's what we would anticipate occurring as well, it would open up the floodgates to basic industries to broaden their tentacles of growth?” Campbell asked.

“That's exactly right,” Scott said.

It was previously estimated that construction of the bridge alone would cost around $1 billion.

In the coming weeks, Moree said, Atlas will meet with key stakeholders like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard as they craft their draft plans. She said they are also working on a website to engage the public and receive feedback as the project develops.

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