State Capitol

© Can Stock Photo / meinzahn

The House Appropriations Committee gave favorable response Tuesday to extra funding for a plan that could significantly cut into bottlenecks along Interstate 10 and La. Hwy. 1.

House Bill 578 by Rep. Tanner L. Magee, R-Houma, would allow the state to dip into the $800 million coffer funded through the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Settlement. Rep. Edmond Jordan, a staunch supporter of the connector, also backs the bill. 

The bill proposes dedicating $25 million per year from 2020 to 2026 to fund infrastructure projects, including the La. Hwy. 1/ La. 415 connector. 

The revenue, coupled with matching federal funds and money from the private sector, would pave the way for construction of a three-mile artery that would extend from the south end of La. 415 to La. 1, south of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The $145 million project could become a reality as early as 2026. The time frame may seem ambitious, but the combination of environmental studies completed by the Parish and dedicated funding could put the project in the fast lane.

“For the first time a viable funding source has been identified and we are prepared to take the fight to the State Capital,” West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “PeeWee” Berthelot said in a letter to residents published in April. 

The connector route is not a new proposal. It first came to light on the parish’s master plan in 1972, only four years after the completion of the Mississippi River Bridge and a year before the opening of I-10 between Grosse Tete and Lafayette. The Parish has funded environmental and most recently, topographical studies, bringing the project near “shovel-ready” status. 

La. Hwy. 1 and the I-10 corridor leading to the Mississippi River Bridge have accounted for some of the worst congestion in the South, and both routes play a massive role in commerce and trade, Magee said. 

“The traffic along this artery affects everyone in the region, and this would alleviate that,” he said. “The best part is that the two projects are shovel-ready.”

Peewee at the committee

Photo by The West Side Journal

Parish President Riley "PeeWee" Berthelot addresses members of the House Appropriations Committee during a hearing on House Bill 578 on Tuesday, April 30. Next to him is Kevin Durbin, West Baton Rouge Director of Public Works. 

The lack of alternate routes along the busy corridor adds to the hardships for motorists, West Baton Rouge Parish President Berthelot told committee members. 

Some travel through Grosse Tete to reach the south end of the Intracoastal, but the pontoon bridge at La. 77 over Bayou Grosse Tete cannot accommodate large tanker trucks, he said. 

More than 50,000 vehicles cross the Intracoastal Waterway bridges daily and upwards of 200,000 motorists pass along the I-10. 

A rebuild of the Intracoastal Waterway bridge is already on the work list after it received an “F” grade for structural deficiency. The dump truck collision that closed lanes on the Intracoastal amid repairs in March – and created traffic jams from the 10-12 split to four miles west of the Mississippi River Bridge – heightened the urgency for quick action. Some residents began sporting “West Side Hostages” bumper stickers to raise awareness of the nightmarish traffic delays. 

The congestion on La. extends four miles south of the Intercoastal during afternoon rush hours, which has put a dent in sales for businesses ranging from cosmetic shops to Walmart, Berthelot said.

“Some people just wait to go later, while others go to Walmart in Plaquemine or New Roads or Baton Rouge,” he said. “It hurts all the businesses.”

It’s not only the businesses that hurt.

“I’ve seen ambulances stuck in the same line of traffic – and that’s unacceptable,” West Baton Rouge Parish businessman Rawlston Phillips said. 

Berthelot, along with the West Baton Rouge Parish Council and West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce called on community leaders and residents to reach out to committee members and attend Tuesday’s meeting if possible in an effort to bring the bill to fruition. 

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