Watson residents get first look at Hooper Road extension plans

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- JoAnne Robeau, left, and Gerald Pichon look at a map of one of the proposed routes for the Hooper Road Extension during an open house meeting on Wednesday at  Live Oak High School in Watson. Robeau and Pichon wanted to identify the proximity of their homes to the route. The extension would connect Hooper Road in Central to La. 16 in Watson.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- JoAnne Robeau, left, and Gerald Pichon look at a map of one of the proposed routes for the Hooper Road Extension during an open house meeting on Wednesday at Live Oak High School in Watson. Robeau and Pichon wanted to identify the proximity of their homes to the route. The extension would connect Hooper Road in Central to La. 16 in Watson.

Watson-area residents poked and prodded state officials Wednesday for answers about a proposed road extension that would connect Hooper Road in East Baton Rouge Parish to La. 16 in Livingston Parish.

Officials say the road would help alleviate traffic congestion in two areas, Central and Watson, where populations are expanding rapidly.

The state Department of Transportation and Development hosted an open house public forum Wednesday at Live Oak High School in Watson. Representatives from N-Y Associates of Metairie, which is performing the environmental assessment for the project, also attended the forum.

Officials posted maps of different possible plans for the road extension and then took questions from residents who pored over the maps.

Nick Olivier, senior project manager for DOTD, said comments about the proposed alternatives largely were positive but varied, based on where people live.

“If a person lives near one of the alternatives, you will get a comment based on that,” he said. “If a person works on one side of the river or the other, their comments may be geared toward that.”

Olivier said state officials will present the road recommendation at another public hearing, possibly in October. An environmental assessment of the project area should be complete by December.

The new road extension would connect Hooper Road in Central to La. 16, also known as Range Avenue, in Watson and would require a bridge crossing the Amite River.

The road extension, in all of its incarnations, calls for a widening of Hooper Road for 3 miles between Sullivan Road and Amber Lakes Drive, according to information provided by DOTD.

In one plan, crews would build a roundabout at the Hooper Road-Greenwell Springs Road intersection and extend the road to La. 16. Officials have drafted plans for three different end points at La. 16 in that design.

In another plan, crews would build a road from the Hooper-Amber Lakes intersection that would cross Greenwell Springs Road about 3,000 feet south of the current Hooper-Greenwell Springs intersection before crossing over into Livingston Parish.

Scott Stringer lives on Bear Cave Road in Watson, which runs parallel to some of the proposed plans for the road extension.

Stringer said he would like to see the road intersection at La. 16 placed farther north than any of the proposals to avoid schools in the area and alleviate congestion.

Stringer said he ultimately supports the extension, noting that he would use it to travel to his job at ExxonMobil’s refinery near the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. But he said it makes no sense to put a major artery right in the middle of Watson.

“Move it north where it would actually do some good,” he said.

John C. Hancock lives on Hancock Lane in Watson, which is northeast of the Hooper-Greenwell Springs intersection.

Hancock voiced concerns about a pit just north of the proposed roads where a narrow band of land separates the pit from the Amite River. He said the river erodes the strip every year and could eventually eat through it, causing flooding in the area.

Hancock suggested an alternative of his own — an extension that would go farther north to Weiss Road, which he said would benefit more of Livingston Parish as well as St. Helena Parish.

“Move it where it can benefit more people and have more room for an entrance and exit and a better flow of traffic,” he said.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said he has heard from residents in both Watson and Central that traffic is already congested at Hooper and Plank Roads, and Plank Road at Interstate 110.

“DOTD needs to focus, when they do this project, to look at the additional capacity that’s going to be placed on that area,” Erdey said. “It’s already bad, and you’re going to make a bad situation worse by moving more traffic from Livingston Parish and the Central area.”

But Erdey said the road would give commuters a straight shot at both the Baton Rouge Metro Airport and downtown Baton Rouge via I-110.

“I’ve got comments from people, ‘Don’t put it at this route, go further north,’” he said. “DOTD favors something for the south because it’s going to have a greater utilization than the north routes. ... In due time, it’ll certainly serve its purpose.”