Industrial growth placing burden on Ascension roads

Official says state roads need work

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said Tuesday that the industrial development coming to his parish could lead to “a mess” on key state highway corridors, including La. 70 and La. 30, if those roads aren’t widened soon to handle the increased traffic.

Shell canceled a $20 billion gas-to-liquids plant in Ascension on Thursday, but other major expansions remain, and some are already underway, including a $2.1 billion expansion of the CF Industries nitrogen complex in Donaldsonville.

“Once all those things are up and running, it’s going to be tough to get around,” Martinez said. “It’s one way in and one way out.”

“It’s going to be a mess,” Martinez added.

The parish president’s comments came Tuesday, as he reacted to news that Shell would not be funding engineering and design work to widen La. 70 and La. 22 to four lanes between Interstate 10 and the Sunshine Bridge as the company had previously talked about for its proposed Gulf Coast GTL project.

The massive gas-to-liquids complex would have been built along River Road in Ascension Parish upstream of the Sunshine Bridge.

Kyle Plotkin, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s spokesman, said late Tuesday that state highway officials plan to spend between $500,000 to $1 million for the planning and design to have the corridor “construction ready.”

Construction dollars would still be needed, Plotkin said, but added surveying work has been finished to help with the design phase.

“It’s an important road to do for industry and for future economic development projects,” Plotkin said.

Asked about Plotkin’s comments, Martinez said: “I’m happy they’re going to do that, have it construction ready. That gives us an opportunity to go and press to do the actual construction.”

Plotkin said the state has invested $70 million in highway improvements in Ascension since 2008.

He said the parish would have to work through the capital outlay process and with Capital-area legislative delegation for the construction funding.

But he said the Governor’s Office would work with the parish “to fund their priorities if they work with the delegation to deem them a priority.”

The Governor’s Office said in late September, when the possibility of the Shell facility was announced, that the La. 70-La. 22 corridor upgrades would cost $32 million.

Hours before Plotkin commented Tuesday that the La. 70 corridor would be construction ready, state Department of Transportation and Development officials said they were “currently reevaluating the project” in light of Shell’s decision not to fund the work.

Those officials said it was an important project and DOTD was trying to determine “the best way to proceed.”

Plotkin, however, said the state is determined to go forward with the design and engineering work.

“It’s a decision they (DOTD) have been studying, and they are moving forward with it,” he said.

The announcement Tuesday was part of the Governor’s Office response to Martinez’s concerns about the future of the La. 70 work and the congestion on state highways in the parish’s Mississippi River industrial belt.

Martinez said he spoke with Jindal in February about the need to widen La. 70 and La. 30 to four lanes and to also do work on La. 73 between I-10 and the Mississippi River.

Martinez added that Jindal “keeps bringing projects but he’s not getting the infrastructure.”

In addition to the La. 70-La. 22 link between I-10 and the Sunshine Bridge, Martinez would like to see La. 30 widened to four lanes from LSU in Baton Rouge to Gonzales.

Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon Friday that with the cancellation of the gas-to-liquids plant, the company will not pay for the La. 70 corridor design because no contract was ever signed between Shell and DOTD.

In anticipation of Shell funding, DOTD began in-house design work this summer on preliminary plans to widen the corridor.

DOTD spokesman Dustin Annison said Tuesday that the preliminary plans have reached 50 percent completion. DOTD evaluated the corridor for upgrades in the late 1990s, but Annison said “plans were put on hold due to lack of funding.”