State decides against widening I-10 between split and bridge

The state has dropped plans to seek ways to widen Interstate 10 between the Mississippi River Bridge and the I-10/12 split, a top state official said Friday.

“It would be a very expensive endeavor,” said Sherri LeBas, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The issue has sparked controversy for years.

An earlier bid to widen the corridor died amid criticism from Perkins Road overpass business owners, neighborhood leaders and others.

LeBas said in November 2011 that the state would solicit public input on ways to improve traffic along the 4-mile route, which is the site of daily tie-ups.

She reiterated that view in July and said she hoped to hold public hearings late this year or in early 2013.

“My personal and professional opinion is we need to look at doing something between the bridge and the split,” LeBas said then.

A $1.2 million study, which was already under way, will be recast.

“It is still a good project,” LeBas said. “It is one for the future.”

The new focus, she said, will be to look at surface streets in Baton Rouge for improvements that can be made more quickly, especially in light of recent backups on I-10 and I-12 after major accidents.

One such example, LeBas said, is the state’s announcement in September to add a northbound lane to the 1-mile section of Essen Lane between Perkins Road and I-10, another stretch of daily traffic tie-ups.

The cost is $12 million.

“We have been in discussions with the city-parish of Baton Rouge,” she said. “We are in this together.”

LeBas said the state’s “economic situation” — Louisiana already has a $12.1 billion backlog of road and bridge needs — was another factor in dropping efforts to tackle the work.

About a decade ago, the state wanted to spend $200 million to widen I-10 from the foot of the bridge to Essen Lane before that plan died.

Any new effort to do something similar would have cost considerably more, officials said.

Legislative attempts to find more money for roads and bridges have gone nowhere in recent years.

Perkins Road overpass business owners Friday praised the decision, especially amid what they called robust times among the restaurants, bars and shops that dot the area.

“I am pleased to know it is off the drawing boards,” said Danny Plaisance, the longtime owner of Cottonwood Books and a critic of widening efforts.

Troy Menier, whose family has operated Troy’s Barber Shop since 1969, echoed that view.

“I didn’t want it,” Menier said. “My building would be taken out.”

Steve Yellot, the owner of Bolton’s Pharmacy, which has been in operation since the 1950s, said most any project would have devastated his and other businesses, including those along Perkins Road.

LeBas downplayed the role that criticism had in the state’s decision.

“I actually received comments on both sides of this,” she said.

Critics note that eastbound traffic funnels off the bridge into one lane, which they say is the only such spot on the coast-to-coast interstate.

At the same time, I-10 motorists trying to reach the Washington Street exit often come to a near halt on the interstate while motorists leaving the bridge are trying to merge into the center and left lanes.