La. 415 project clears one more hurdle

John Dupont
Map of proposed La. 1/La. 415 project

One more approval awaits a bill that could lead to major relief for motorists along the Westbank and other areas along Interstate 10.

The state Senate on Monday voted 37-0 on a bill that would include $700 million in road projects across the state, including the long-discussed connector route from La. 415 to La. 1 south, off I-10 in West Baton Rouge Parish.

House Bill 578 by state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, was set to return to the House for final approval. The bill must be approved no later than Thursday, June 6 when lawmakers end their 2019 session.

The bill has been pushed heavily by Westbank lawmakers, including state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, and state representatives Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, and Jeremy Lacombe of New Roads.

The bill would allow for use of $700 million in funds from British Petroleum as part of a nearly $10 billion settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The La. 415 project – which carries a price tag of $125 million – was the initial portion of the bill, along elevation of a portion of La. 1 between Golden Meadow and Leeville, a key route for energy companies which transport oil from rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The elevation project in the coastal area is estimated to cost $343 million.

Representatives from the northern portion of the state subsequently asked for inclusion for road improvements in their respective districts.

The state will get $50 million for 14 years from the BP settlement. Forty-five percent of the money currently goes toward budget stabilization and another 45 percent to the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly.

The plan would redirect the Medicaid fund to infrastructure and reimburse it starting next year, Magee said.

The project already has $50 million set aside -- $25 million from the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and $25 million from business and industry.

The project's origins date back to 1972 – a year before the completion of the I-10 stretch to Lafayette –when it was identified as a priority in the West Baton Rouge Parish Master Plan.

A report by Dr. Loren Scott and LSU Economist Jim Richardson revealed that the U.S. economy loses $22 million each hour the La. 1 artery is out of commission in the coastal parishes.