West Baton Rouge Parish could see a proposed LA 1/I-10 connector as part of a statewide transportation plan.
WBR Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot and Parish Planner Kevin Durbin gave a presentation to the La. Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Wednesday, July 24, detailing the necessity for an alternate route to the 53-year-old and often-congested LA 1 bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
Berthelot presented the connector to the Louisiana Congressional Delegation, local delegation and DOTD as early as 2010, in a letter dated Jan. 7, 2010.
Since then, the parish has learned from CDM Smith via an investment-grade study that tolls generated from the connector would be insufficient to finance the project, estimated to cost between $75 million and $130 million. Berthelot has also said he does not want to tax the people of West Baton Rouge (WBR) for what he considers to be a regional, not a local, problem.
Meanwhile, WBR Parish has also obtained a private investor, American Transportation Partners. The parish council agreed on June 13 to a one-year cooperative endeavor agreement with the company, but on July 25 rejected the company’s now proposed two-year agreement.
The July 24 presentation to DOTD included a 12-minute DVD video narrated by the Public Address Announcer for Tiger Stadium, Dan Borne, with interviews from Stacey Chiasson of The Dow Chemical Company, Raju Porandla of the Capital Region Planning Commission, Executive Director for the Port of Greater Baton Rouge Jay Hardman, WBR Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Stuart, Port Allen Fire Chief Rick Boudreaux, Daniel Lennie of Acadian Ambulance Service and statements from Berthelot.
Eight-page, spiral-bound booklets bearing the seal of the WBR Parish Council accompanied the presentation.
The cost of the presentation totaled about $4,500, Parish Finance Director Philip Bourgoyne said, and will come out of budgeted funds for parish promotional materials.
The booklet presents the LA 1/I-10 connector as “the solution to Intracoastal Waterway Bridge safety, evacuation and bottleneck issues.”
“West Baton Rouge has a population of 24,000, but 45,000 vehicles travel over that bridge daily,” Berthelot said. The Dow Chemical Company and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge are also expanding, Chiasson and Hardman said, which could add to the congestion.
Transportation for America classifies the LA 1 bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway as “structurally deficient.”
“This bridge is the only unrestricted access for La. Hwy. 1 in the region,” the booklet states, and currently serves as an evacuation route “for some 120,000 people in south Louisiana.”
Resident Erin Bennett expressed issues with the bridge at a previous parish council meeting. She said, “My father is a heart patient. If he had a problem and the bridge was out he would die.”
Chiasson said for about $50,000 two or three years ago, Dow built a helipad to ensure that in case of emergency and temporary congestion or closure of the LA 1 bridge, Dow employees could be airlifted to hospitals in East Baton Rouge Parish.
The LA 1/I-10 connector would span approximately three miles from LA 415 where it currently ends to LA 1 and would consist of a new, alternate bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
According to the booklet, the connector is endorsed by the: Capital Region Planning Commission, Iberville Parish Council, St. James Parish Council, Greater Baton Rouge Port Commission, West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce, West Baton Rouge School Board, Louisiana Congressional Delegation and Louisiana House & Senate Delegations.
Berthelot said July 25, “We don’t know where we stand,” with DOTD after the presentation. He said the presentation could secure the connector’s place on a statewide list of potential projects.
DOTD Public Information Officer Lauren Lee said over the phone July 30, “It will be reviewed and considered for the statewide transportation plan.”