Gonzales roundabouts planned for La. 30

After more than a year of studies, a plan for roundabouts on La. 30 near Interstate 10 could be coming public soon.

Gonzales City Engineer Jackie Baumann said she and other city officials have worked with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development for months, exploring the best options for improving the traffic flow on one of the city’s busiest highways.

The La. 30 exit at I-10 is home to the city’s busiest shopping district, with the Tanger Outlet Mall and Cabela’s sporting goods store both fronting the interstate. In addition, the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, the multi-purpose facility that hosts most of Ascension Parish’s major events, is located off La. 30. And the highway also serves as a major corridor for the parish’s chemical plant industry.

“Is it needed? Yes. It’s way past time,” Gonzales Councilman Gary Lacombe said. “That highway is heavily traveled and we need to do something.”

Baumann said city and DOTD officials performed traffic studies on La. 30 and then explored a variety of options to improve the traffic flow.

Currently, there are three traffic signals at I-10 and Tanger entrance, as well as stop signs on St. Landry and South Robert Wilson roads. Baumann said options were explored to modify the signals, add more signals or add roundabouts, which are circular intersections designed to calm traffic and keep it moving.

The original plan was to add four roundabouts at all of the intersections, though that could be changed to only feature three, Baumann said. City officials will meet privately later this week with various stakeholders in the parish to see if they approve of the plan, and if so, public hearings would be set in the near future. Baumann said he’s not sure when those public hearings would be held.

“We’ve evolved to this plan,” Baumann said. “We’re at the end of a very long process.”

DOTD officials said the roundabout project currently is a city project, so they would not comment on it. Lauren Lee, a DOTD spokeswoman, said DOTD’s role is approving the city’s design and issuing a work permit because La. 30 is a state highway. Baumann said the city satisfied DOTD’s demands last month.

“We’ve spent over a year doing models and studies, going back and forth with DOTD engineers,” she said. “We have satisfied their technical requirements.”

The price of the project remains unknown. City officials originally estimated the cost at around $11 million, and they hoped that DOTD would cover the majority of that cost. Baumann said the city must pay for all of the design costs, while DOTD will cover the construction costs.

The roundabout project would be the second in Ascension Parish, following one at the intersection of La. 42 and La. 431 near Port Vincent. Only a handful of projects have been completed in the state, though more than a dozen are planned over the next five years.

According to a DOTD survey, Lee said, most drivers who use the La. 42-431 roundabout on a regular basis believe traffic flow has improved, wrecks have decreased and the intersection is safer to navigate.

Maj. Ward Webb, head of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office’s traffic division, said Sheriff’s Office traffic statistics show the roundabout has decreased traffic crashes as well as kept traffic moving. While traffic backed up for as much as a mile at times prior to the roundabout, Webb said rarely happens these days. In addition, he said there has been one crash in the roundabout since its opening in September, compared to roughly 12 crashes during 2011.

“I’ve heard nothing but positives on it, especially from the deputies who travel that way a lot,” Webb said.

Lacombe said he’s interested in finding out more information during the project’s public hearings.

“It’s something new. Historically, we haven’t had those types of traffic flows around here, so it’ll take a little getting used to,” Lacombe said. “I understand that, but we have to do something, and traffic lights are not gonna help because that’s just gonna slow things down.”