DOTD secretary offers update on BR projects

While plans to overhaul heavily traveled Essen Lane will be delayed, the state is about to launch another widening project on Interstate 12, state Department of Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas said Monday.

LeBas told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the letting of contracts for the $7 million expansion of Essen Lane between Perkins Road and I-10 had been set for summer 2014.

But that action has been moved to November 2014 and the work should take 18 to 24 months, she said.

LeBas and Gov. Bobby Jindal announced plans in September to add another northbound lane along the one-mile stretch through Baton Rouge’s major medical corridor.

About 35,000 motorists use that part of Essen Lane daily. The extra lane is supposed to increase capacity by 30 percent.

Utility-related work in advance of the construction is one reason that the project is being pushed back, LeBas said.

On another area project, LeBas said work is about to begin on adding an additional lane in each direction on I-12 from Walker to 1/2 mile west of Satsuma.

The work, which is set to start in February, will cost $26.5 million and cover 3.6 miles.

State and federal officials are essentially splitting the costs in half.

The state is nearing completion on a similar widening project between Juban Road and Walker.

The ultimate goal, LeBas said, is to widen I-12 to Slidell but financial and other issues are in the way.

The state has a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, which the secretary noted is about $2 billion less than previously.

Long-shot efforts in the Legislature to raise more money for state highways have gone nowhere.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who LeBas works for, has repeatedly said he opposes any tax hikes.

“I don’t see anything happening in the near future,” LeBas said when asked about prospects for additional highway money.