Loop concerns voiced

Michael Tortorich
Henry Graham of St. Amant gestures to the map as he explains his opposition to the Baton Rouge Loop, a proposed toll traffic loop around the city which would cut through Ascension Parish on its southern side. A public meeting was held at the Gonzales Civic Center Monday night.

Representatives for the Baton Rouge Loop project received mixed reviews during the public meeting in Gonzales Monday night.

The meeting held in the Gonzales Civic Center allowed the public to view maps and illustrations and to talk with project representatives.

The purpose of the loop is to reduce existing and future traffic congestion in the Baton Rouge area, according to information displayed at the meeting.

The project is a proposed 80-90 mile long controlled access toll roadway to span Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston and West Baton Rouge parishes.

The entire project has been estimated to cost up to $4.5 billion.

Several Ascension Parish area residents spoke about their concerns over the impact the loop would have on the area, from economic to environmental issues.

Bob Schmidt, associate vice president of HNTB Corp. and loop team project manager, said the project would be built in five or six phases once it gets public support and financing. HNTB Corp. and ABMA Engineers make up the loop team for the Capital Area Expressway Authority.

“Our job is to make sure folks understand the project,” Schmidt said.

People have been naturally interested in the project since the “footprint may affect them personally,” he said.

The corridor sections on the maps represent “very wide corridors,” he said, and are not the actual footprints. Schmidt said the actual road will be “very skinny” relative to the sections on the maps.

The first phase would construct the northern section, which would branch from Interstate 10 in West Baton Rouge Parish, across northern East Baton Rouge Parish and connect to Interstate 12 east of Walker in Livingston Parish.

The northern section has been said to be the most financially feasible and would relieve the most traffic congestion.

The southern section would cross the Mississippi River either south of Brusly or Plaquemine in Iberville Parish. The route would then pass south of Gonzales and turn north toward French Settlement and Port Vincent in Livingston Parish. It would connect back to Interstate 12 east of Walker, just as the northern section would.

The project boundary encompasses more than half of Ascension Parish, including Donaldsonville and most of the west bank of the parish, according to maps provided at the meeting. Previous corridor sections running as far south as the Donaldsonville area have been eliminated.

Henry Graham Jr., who owns property on Stringer Bridge in St. Amant and works as the director of environmental and legal affairs for the Louisiana Chemical Association in Baton Rouge, was one of the more outspoken opponents to the project.

Graham said he has a background as an environmental engineer and attorney, and has brought up concerns over the last few years.

“The citizens of Ascension Parish will not benefit from it,” Graham said.

He said East Baton Rouge Parish “choked off” its major traffic routes over the years. He warned against making the same mistakes again.

Several elected officials who represent the areas concerned attended the meeting, including Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez, parish councilmen and state Rep. Mert Smiley (R-Port Vincent).

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The proposed route of the Baton Rouge Loop project cuts through Ascension Parish south of Gonzales and into Livingston Parish to connect to Interstate 12.