State weighs options for easing I-10 traffic

The state is considering ways to redirect traffic from the heavily-used new Mississippi River Bridge to the less-traveled old Mississippi River Bridge to ease congestion on Interstate 10, Louisiana’s transportation chief said Thursday.

One idea is to improve a stretch of La. 1 between the I-10 bridge and U.S. 190 so more motorists will use the old bridge, said Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The old bridge is undergoing more than $100 million of work, including repairs and painting.

LeBas said the upgrades could entice someone, for instance, who works in West Baton Rouge Parish but lives in Zachary to bypass the new bridge and use a renovated La. 1 northbound to U.S. 190.

About 86,000 motorists use the I-10 bridge daily compared with about 29,000 who use the U.S. 190 structure.

“We want to get more people to utilize the old Mississippi River Bridge,” she said.

The issue surfaced during a question and answer session at the annual meeting of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana.

LeBas, who spoke to the group, was asked about the status of any efforts to widen I-10 from the foot of the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge to the I-10/12 split.

That stretch of I-10 is the site of daily traffic tieups.

Eastbound traffic is funneled off the bridge into one lane, and 18-wheelers regularly push to enter the center and left lanes of I-10.

Meanwhile, eastbound motorists sometimes come to a full stop on the interstate to reach the Washington Street exit.

State leaders have repeatedly toyed with various widening projects.

However, all the ideas have died amid costs concerns and opposition from business owners near the Perkins Road overpass, who say any widening work will destroy their livelihoods.

LeBas said a year ago that the state was dropping widening work proposals, which she called “a very expensive endeavor.” The cost was estimated at $200 million a decade ago, and is likely much higher today.

“At this time we are just not looking at that,” she said of widening work.

LeBas said the state also has a consultant studying ways to improve state-run surface streets, which face regular backups when motorists abandon the interstates.

One such example is the plan to add a northbound lane to the one mile stretch of Essen Lane between Perkins Road and I-10, another heavily traveled stretch. She said the letting for that project has been pushed back from the summer of 2014 to later in the year.

The pricetag is $12 million.

What any of the other improvements would cost is unclear.

The state already has a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge projects, which has fallen about $2 billion in recent years.

Most efforts to generate more money for transportation have died in the Legislature.

There are also questions about the future of federal aid for state projects amid national financial problems.

LeBas said she has not seen estimates on whether the $12 billion backlog will rise or fall.