Road widening continues for high-traffic area
LAFAYETTE — A newly widened stretch of U.S. 90 opened Wednesday, expanding the heavily traveled route from four to six lanes for the seven miles between Pinhook Road in Lafayette and Broussard.
The $20 million widening project is the latest in a series of upgrades along U.S. 90 in an effort to bring the road up to interstate standards to serve as the southern leg of Interstate 49.
The portion of I-49 that runs through north Louisiana is largely complete, and the state plans to give more attention to the section from Lafayette to New Orleans, state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas said Wednesday at a news conference announcing the completion of the widening project.
“We are turning our attention very aggressively to I-49 South,” she said.
The U.S. 90 widening project is on a section of the road that sees about 50,000 vehicles a day, LeBas said.
The project, which began in April 2010, also involved the redesign of several major intersections to phase out left turns onto the highway.
Drivers approaching U.S. 90 from University Avenue, Albertsons Parkway and Morgan Avenue will not be able to turn left onto the highway but rather will be required to turn right, travel down the highway and then make a U-turn to go in the other direction.
Traffic engineers refer to that series of movements as a “J-turn.”
LeBas said the concept might sound counterintuitive at first, but J-turns have been shown to reduce accidents and improve traffic flow.
“It will make it safer for our travelling public,” LeBas said.
She said the next major project along U.S. 90 in the Lafayette area will be an overpass and other upgrades at the intersection of U.S. 90 and Ambassador Caffery South.
The $30 million project is now moving into the design phase, which is expected to take from one to one-and-half years, according to DOTD spokeswoman Deidra Lockhart.
LeBas said that DOTD is also planning to begin design work for the I-49 “Connector,” the partially elevated portion of interstate that is proposed to roughly follow the path of Evangeline Thruway through Lafayette.
DOTD estimates it will cost $700 million to $750 million to build the project, which is far beyond available funding.
“But we are going to move forward with the design for that project,” LeBas said.
She also said that some property along the proposed “Connector” route has already been purchased from willing sellers to preserve right-of-way for the future interstate.
The state completed a series of overpasses, frontage roads and other improvements over the past two decades in an effort to bring U.S. 90 up to interstate standards.
“It’s really like a puzzle almost,” LeBas said.
The costliest projects that remain are the “Connector” through Lafayette and the 36-mile southern stretch from Raceland to the Westbank Expressway in Jefferson Parish, which is estimated at $3.7 billion.
The estimate is so high because existing plans call for much of that portion to be elevated due to flooding concerns.
DOTD officials have said that there is a possibility of not elevating some portions in an effort to bring the cost down.
“We are re-scoping to see what we could do that would be more feasible for that area,” LeBas said.
DOTD was asked by the Legislature earlier this year to study the feasibility of using tolls to help pay for completing I-49 south.
That report is expected before the end of the year.