THE ISSUE: It was a difficult task to get the project funded. Moreover, the road carries about 24,000 cars a day, but that number is expected to increase to 37,000 cars by 2034.
LOCAL IMPACT: It's an overdue, but progressive measure. It will bring Ascension Parish into the future with sidewalks and bike paths, according to local leaders.
State and local officials broke ground today on a project to widen LA 42 from Airline Highway to Burnside. The project is a joint effort between Ascension Parish and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. Governor John Bel Edwards and much of the Ascension legislative delegation were on hand for the event.
The parish put up the $4 million necessary to relocate the utilities along the stretch of highway, as well as a new sewer system that was needed. Both were completed in May, allowing construction to begin on the road work. DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said moving the sewerage and utilities first will allow for more efficient construction on the road.
"In urbanized areas with lots of traffic, it can be very disruptive and take a lot of time when you have to do sewer and drainage work as well as do the widening," said Wilson, "and so in May of 2016 we completed all of the sewer work and drainage work that's necessary for the widening project."
The highway will be widened from two lanes to four lanes along the stretch. It will also include an 18-foot wide median complete with J-turns. One side of the road will feature a six-foot sidewalk for pedestrians, and the other side will have a bicycle path. Wilson said these will allow citizens to have a more active lifestyle.
The project is the last capacity expansion work the state will complete as budget constraints limit future road work to maintaining and repairing roads and bridges already in place. Currently the road carries about 24,000 cars a day, but that number is expected to increase to 37,000 cars by 2034. Governor John Bel Edwards said this will ease some of the growing pains in the parish.
"Ascension Parish is certainly experiencing enormous economic growth and population growth, making it one of the fastest growing parishes in the state," said Edwards, "and with this kind of growth, it's very important that our roads are not left behind."
Edwards added the expansion will alleviate congestion on the highway, especially during morning and evening rush hours. He thanked Ascension's state representatives and senators for continuing to push for the completion of this project, which has been a big topic of discussion for many years.
Senator Eddie Lambert said it was a long, arduous task to get this project funded. He said the project had basically dropped off the books when he took office in 2004. Thanks to a big push from the delegation, the project is finally getting underway after 14 years of discussion. He said the plans for the project look like it will be a top of the line roadway.
"It's going to bring Ascension into the future with sidewalks, bike paths. We now have sewer that's underground here, and that only happened with the help of numerous people," said Lambert.
State Representative Johnny Berthelot was one of those who played a role in getting the project funded, as the Ascension Parish lawmaker sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
"This is our number one priority for the parish. So many lives lives have been lost, and it has touched our community for many, many years," Berthelot said. "So it is really a great day in Ascension Parish."
Officials say the upgrades will improve safety along the highway. Berthelot said this is roadway will be the only of its kind in the entire state. Loretta Templet and Miriam Leggette LaCroix were vocal proponents of the project to make the deadly highway safer.
Templet's daughter, Mandy Acosta; nephew, Brett Leggette; and his friend, Brett Frederic were killed in a fatal crash on LA 42 in August of 1994. Since their deaths, Templet has been urging lawmakers to prevent such tragedies by widening the highway.
"I don't think anyone really has a clue what this means to me," said Templet. "My heart is full."
Parish President Kenny Matassa welcomed the family and friends of those who lost their lives on the deadly roadway. He became emotional as he talked about what the project really means to the community.
"We are fulfilling the promise to our people for a safer roadway, and we will move Ascension forward," said Matassa.
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