As political leaders in Baton Rouge and Central gathered Thursday morning to open the decades-in-the-making Central Thruway, they gave special praise to former Metro Councilman Joe Greco for his dogged efforts to bring the 4.1-mile road into being.
Kip Holden recalled that soon after he was elected mayor-president of Baton Rouge in fall 2004, Greco urged him to make the long-planned but never-built road a priority. Holden included the proposal as one of the projects in the Green Light construction program approved by voters in 2005.
“When someone makes their case so passionately as the people of Central and Mr. Greco did, you cannot turn a deaf ear,” Holden said.
Greco spent more than two decades lobbying for the road, which promises relief from traffic congestion in Central, better access to services, increased economic development as well as an evacuation route during heavy rains, obviating the need for a detour through Baker.
The new four-lane road cost more than $64 million to build and stretches from Florida Boulevard to Sullivan Road. It also connects O’Neal Lane to Greenwell Springs Road, providing quicker access to Interstate 12. Construction continues at the northern tip of the new thruway, meaning slower speed limits until everything is complete, probably in October.
Holden gave his remarks in a white tent pitched on the median of the new road, which was just south of its intersection with Frenchtown Road. Behind him was one of the seven bridges built for the thruway, on which construction began in 2008.
The bridge has been named after Greco’s deceased wife, Joan, who also campaigned for the road’s creation. Holden gave Greco a copy of the plaque — “Joan R. Greco Memorial Bridge” — that motorists will pass as they approach the bridge.
Taking the microphone, standing with the help of two of his sons, Kelly and Perry, Greco said he has gotten along well with past mayors, but called Holden a true friend.
“All my friends are here and that makes me proud,” Joe Greco said, barely audible.
“The only person missing is my wife,” he added, choking up, unable to continue.
Joan Greco died from ovarian cancer in 2007. Joe Greco, who represented the Central area, left the Metro Council in 2010 thanks to term limits.
Another person remembered Thursday was Jose Alvarez, the longtime chief construction engineer for the city-parish Department of Public Works. Alvarez, who died in 2012, was also credited with having a critical role in the thruway’s creation.
Holden said the thruway, the largest road construction project ever undertaken by the city-parish, was a major challenge, but one that Alvarez was up to.
“We would not be here if not for him and the work he did,” Holden said.
Another one of the bridges bears a plaque with Alvarez’s name on it, but the bridge naming still requires approval by the Metro Council.