Iberville agrees to work with Ascension in funding bridge study

The Iberville Parish Council on Tuesday unanimously threw its support behind Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso’s recommendation for the parish to share costs with Ascension Parish in funding a feasibility study that could mean a new highway and bridge on the west bank of the Mississippi.

Iberville Parish is offering up $175,000 to match state funds approved during the last legislative session to pay an engineering firm to research a proposal to construct the West Bank Connector, a proposed four-lane highway between Interstate 10 near Port Allen and Interstate 310 just west of New Orleans.

The study will also take a hard look at building a bridge over the Mississippi River to connect La. 1 and La. 30, most likely in Iberville Parish.

Officials said the new highway and bridge would relieve traffic congestion on I-10 through Baton Rouge and provide an alternate evacuation route during hurricanes and emergencies.

Both projects are poised to become key endeavors among state lawmakers as daily traffic congestion along La. 1 in Port Allen becomes an increasing headache for government officials as well as businesses, commuter and residents.

According to 2013 Department of Transportation traffic data, some 47,000 vehicles travel each day on La. 1 near the Intracoastal Waterway bridge in West Baton Rouge. But only 24,573 people live in West Baton Rouge Parish, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The parish is really taking a hit with commerce and jobs,” Council president Matthew Jewell said during Tuesday night’s meeting. “Can we all agree a new bridge is very much needed?”

State officials have estimated a new bridge would cost about $800 million.

The council’s vote Tuesday comes more than a week after the Ascension Parish Council approved their agreement to enter into the funding partnership with Iberville Parish.

Ascension is putting up $125,000, Ourso told the Parish Council. Iberville’s share is more because a new bridge would likely be located in their parish, he said.

The study will cost approximately $1.7 million, Ourso said.

“You are talking about something that might be 10 to 15 years off if it materializes,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is position ourselves for the bridge.”

“That ought to be a pretty short study,” Councilman Bart Morgan quipped. “All they need to do is sit in traffic and they’ll see that we need a bridge.”

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