Gov. Edwards signs bill for I-10/415 connector route

John Dupont
Gov. John Bel Edwards (seated) signs a $700 million-dollar Louisiana infrastructure bill on Friday, June 28.

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a $700 million infrastructure investment bill Friday that will include a major traffic relief plan for the Interstate 10 corridor near the New Mississippi River Bridge.

Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Development, along with local and state officials, joined Gov. Edwards for the ceremony near the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, near I-10 and the Intracoastal Waterway bridges – areas of some of the worst traffic in the South.

House Bill 578, sponsored by state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, appropriates $700 million from the BP oil spill settlement to the connector project at La. 415, along with six other infrastructure bills statewide.

"I applaud the legislature for targeting long-awaited projects we know will help improve travel for motorists and provide economic benefits to the state," Gov. Edwards said. "Despite overwhelming needs, we are finding innovative ways to fund important projects across Louisiana, a move which is necessary for the growth of our communities and state."

As part of the legislation, the bill provides $125 million for a 2.7-mile connection from I-10 at La. 415 to La. 1 to an area near La. 988 (Beaulieu Lane) near the Intracoastal Waterway.

"The signing of HB 578 is a win for infrastructure," said Dr. Shawn Wilson, DOTD Secretary. "The transportation needs are crucial throughout the state and impacts our economy and quality of life. In West Baton Rouge where I-10 is used as a major connector for local residents and motorists traveling across the country. And this connector will greatly improve connectivity and will assist in alleviating some of the traffic congestion experienced on a daily basis."

The project will require elevated structures, including flyover ramps northbound from La. 1 to southbound La. 1, according to the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The governor's signature paves the way a project proposed by lawmakers along the West bank more than 30 years ago.

"From the beginning, I've said we're not going to fix our road and traffic congestions with one project. It's going to take 415, a new Mississippi River Bridge, addressing the Washington Street exit and widening La. 30 on the east side of the river," said state Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine. "This is a huge step, especially when you look back at the horrible problems that we've had with the intracoastal bridge and the cracks underneath, with people taking 70-mile detours to the Sunshine Bridge or 53 miles across the Grosse Tete bridge.

"This is a key piece to the puzzle and having the funding to carry out the project is huge," he said. "This impacts businesses and commuters up and down the river who have to go to school or work or to a doctor's appointment on a daily basis."

The origins of an alternate route go back to 1972 when West Baton Rouge Parish government included it in the master plan, one year before completion of the stretch of I-10 between La. 415 and U.S. 167 (now I-49) in Lafayette.

This bill was huge for the entire region," said Senator Rick Ward, R-Port Allen. "The La. 415 connector will provide much needed relief for local traffic and assist with congestion over the Mississippi River Bridge.

"The reason we all stand here together is because of the hard work of parish councils and town councils . . . everyone has worked to make this a top priority for a long, long time," he said. "Without them, we wouldn't have had the tools necessary to go up to the legislature as a delegation and fight with what we needed to push for a shovel-ready project – and the best part is that it is fully funded. It's been a long time since we've been able to say that about a project."

State Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Brusly, considers the project a sign of much need relief for the region.

"We've always talked about traffic mitigation, but it will also be a huge economic boost for our parish," he said. "I know about the traffic because I live here and cross the bridge every day, so I know this will bring some relief for commutes, as well as for economic development and commerce."

This new connector will assist in improving connectivity on I-10 in West Baton Rouge, as well as provide a relief route for local traffic during peak hours, divert traffic from accidents along LA 1, and provide a direct connection for commercial vehicles to intermodal transportation facilities located at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.

It will also serve as an additional evacuation route for areas south of I-10.

"I am proud of the collaboration seen throughout this legislative session that allowed House Bill 578 to be passed. The $700 million allocated from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will allow DOTD to begin construction on many crucial projects that have been neglected due to a lack of funding. The maintenance and preservation of Louisiana's infrastructure needs to be a priority, and I am delighted that this bill can play a vital role in aiding a portion of our transportation needs," said Representative Tanner Magee. 

DOTD anticipates having a consultant under contract for the design of the connector by fall 2019. Construction is estimated to begin fall 2022.

Other projects that will receive funding include:

---I-49 North Inter-City Connector in Caddo Parish

---Sugarhouse Road Extension in Rapides Parish

---Hooper Road Widening in East Baton Rouge Parish

---LA 3241 extension from I-12 to Bush in St. Tammany Parish

---I-49 South in Acadia and Lafayette Parishes

---LA 1 at Leeville improvements in Lafourche Parish.