Central Thruway opening on Thursday around noon

While some may just see a new road, a great many others see the opening of the Central Thruway on Thursday as access to better services, a relief from road congestion, road access that won’t flood and a door to more economic development.

The new four-lane road stretching from Florida Boulevard to Sullivan Road will officially open Thursday around noon. It also connects O’Neal Lane to Greenwell Springs Road, providing quicker access to Interstate 12.

“It opens us up to the Interstate,” Central Mayor Shelton “Mac” Watts said. The road also will help eliminate some of the congestion on other of Central’s main roads and give residents more direct access to hospitals located near I-12.

“I think our people are really looking forward to it,” Watts said. “It’s definitely going to be a help.”

Mayor-President Kip Holden agreed and said it’s a project that really got going through the work of Joe Greco, who was an advocate for getting the project off the planning books and into construction.

“He was very passionate that this was something that had to be done,” Holden said. “He just fought and fought to make this happen.”

In addition to providing better access to Central, Holden said, it gives the parish an “inner loop” that provides road connections from Central to Burbank Drive and even into the downtown area.

“It’s the largest amount of money that’s ever been spent on a project in East Baton Rouge Parish,” Holden said.

This 4.1-mile Central Thruway is part of the city-parish’s Green Light Plan and is funded from a half-cent sales and use tax that passed parish wide in 2005.

Construction on the $64.5 million four-lane thruway began in April 2008 and includes seven bridges that span floodplains and rivers. For that reason, it’s not likely there will be development along the thruway, but it could bring more commercial businesses to where the thruway intersects with Greenwell Springs Road, said David Barrow, Central’s chief administrative officer.

“It will definitely be good for economic development,” Barrow said.

In addition to the better access, the elevated roadway and bridges will give Central residents another way to get in and out of the city during high water events when the bridge on Greenwell Springs Road floods, he said.

As the Central Thruway opens Thursday, drivers should be patient because the traffic pattern is going to be a little different once the thruway opens, Barrow said.

Construction on Greenwell Springs Road at the Central Thruway will continue so there will be temporary lanes, turning lanes and a 35 mile per hour speed limit.

In addition, the Central Thruway will connect with Sullivan Road about 150 feet south of Lovett Road and Sullivan Road will be completely blocked off just south of this transition.

Drivers will need to use the Central Thruway to go to and from Greenwell Springs Road. Work to elevate Sullivan Road and connect it to the existing height of the Central Thruway will continue after the opening Thursday.

With the new traffic patterns, and the likelihood that more drivers will want to take a look at the new project, drivers need to be patient with the initial traffic flow, Barrow said.

Although some additional work will need to be done on parts of the project after Thursday’s opening, getting the road open was important, said John Snow, spokesman for the Green Light Plan.

“People have waited a long time for this,” Snow said.

The remaining work on the thruway should be completed by this fall.