Interstate widening may finish by year-end

Advocate staff file photo by Richard Alan HannonAn aerial view in May illustrates of ongoing Interstate 10 widening project at Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by Richard Alan HannonAn aerial view in May illustrates of ongoing Interstate 10 widening project at Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.

The off-and-on widening of Interstate 10 between the I-10/12 split and Siegen Lane may be completed by the end of the year, said Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“If not by the end of this year, then certainly by the early part of 2013,” LeBas said. “I would say by February.”

The $86 million project has been under way to varying degrees since January 2009.

It was originally supposed to be finished by late 2011.

But DOTD officials announced that year that the work was 10 months behind schedule.

They also replaced the lead contractor, Austin Bridge & Road Inc., with Boh Bros. Construction of New Orleans.

LeBas said some lanes still need paving.

Work also remains to be done on a soundwall, which parallels some of the westbound portion of the corridor, but LeBas said that should not affect the opening of the expanded road.

“We are very hopeful that it will be by the end of the year,” LeBas said.

Work on an adjoining project, adding a new lane in each direction between Siegen Lane and Highland Road, should be done by spring 2013, she said.

Paving and finishing bridge work along the corridor remain on the to-do list, LeBas said.

That project has a $60 million pricetag.

Boh Bros. has been the contractor from the start.

Traffic on I-10 between the split and Highland Road is among the heaviest in the Baton Rouge area, and will get even busier during the Christmas shopping season.

Construction work has all but ensured near-daily slowdowns for months in both directions around Essen Lane, Bluebonnet Boulevard and Siegen Lane.

Generally speaking, eastbound motorists have to get past Highland Road to feel like they are out of Baton Rouge traffic.

LeBas said motorists are going to notice a major difference when the work is done.

“Especially on that afternoon traffic going home,” she said.

LeBas said it will be comparable to traffic relief motorists felt since the state in June finished the widening of I-12 between O’Neal Lane and Juban Road, which cost $146 million.

She said she has gotten more positive comments on that than almost any project she has worked on.

A third project, the widening of I-12 between Juban Road and Walker, is supposed to be
finished by mid-2013.

After that, I-12 from Walker toward Satsuma — exactly how far is unclear — will be widened.

That work is supposed to cost between $10 million and $15 million.

All the funding sources have not been identified. Environmental studies are also required.

“If we are able to make it all the way to Satsuma, we may do it in two projects,” LeBas said.

Area lawmakers have said the improvements on I-12 are helping to boost commerce between the New Orleans area and Lafayette.

All the work comes at a time when major state road and bridge projects are rare.

Louisiana has a $12.1 billion backlog of transportation work, and legislative efforts to find new dollars have floundered amid disappointing state revenue collections.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s steadfast opposition to any tax hikes, among other factors, has quelled most of the talk about finding new dollars for roads and bridges.