DENHAM SPRINGS — Traffic finally flowed freely on all six lanes of newly widened Interstate 12 between Juban Road and O’Neal Lane on Tuesday afternoon.
Workers finished striping the last eastbound traffic lane and removed the orange traffic cones shortly before Gov. Bobby Jindal held an afternoon news conference to announce completion of the work that for the past three years often has frustrated motorists traveling between Baton Rouge and Livingston Parish.
Work continues on two other projects to extend the six-laning of I-12 from Denham Springs eastward past Walker.
Jindal said plans also exist to begin widening I-12 bridges to the east of Denham Springs to prepare for future growth.
The $146 million addition of a third lane in each direction between Juban Road and O’Neal Lane ends the longtime bottleneck for eastbound traffic at O’Neal.
Jindal called the project as “a major step forward to help speed up commutes for area residents” and to make their trips safer.
He also said the work is important in making the area “more attractive for businesses that want to invest and create jobs.
“We are in the center of one of the fastest-growing parts of our state” and the nation, Jindal said as he stood among a group of public officials from Livingston Parish.
The governor said the area’s infrastructure had been neglected for too long.
“The congestion here was intolerable,” said Sherri H. LeBas, secretary of the state Department of Transportation.
The added interstate lanes will, LeBas said, “provide much-needed congestion relief and a tremendous safety benefit to the 85,000 motorists traveling this segment daily.”
Morning traffic flow showed an immediate improvement after the third westbound traffic lane opened Monday, said Jodi Conachen, DOTD communications director.
A comparison of the speeds motorists were able to drive during a heavy travel period Monday morning improved to 55 mph from 25 to 30 mph on the previous Monday, Conachen said after Tuesday’s news conference.
The opening of the westbound traffic lane earlier this week slightly preceded Tuesday’s opening of the eastbound lane, which should have more of an impact on afternoon traffic moving out of Baton Rouge.
Having six lanes is “phenomenal for the parish,” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said.
The extra lanes will be especially important for commuters in the mornings and afternoons, Denham Springs Mayor Jimmy Durbin said.
The 5.2 miles of six-lane I-12 completed Tuesday involved two separate projects.
The first widened I-12 from O’Neal Lane to just east of Pete’s Highway eastbound and to just west of 4-H Club Road westbound. That project began in April 2009.
The second project continued the widening eastward to Juban Road. That project began in August 2010.
A $21.9 million widening project from Juban Road eastward to and Walker is still under way. That project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2013.
Another project is scheduled to widen I-12 past Walker for two to three miles to the east toward Satsuma.
Upon completion, the piecemeal projects would result in widening I-12 from four to six lanes from O’Neal Lane past Walker, as far as money set aside for the project would allow, DOTD officials reported.