BR accepts state roads to speed progress on key projects

East Baton Rouge Parish has agreed to take control of 11 miles of key state roads leading to downtown, which officials hope will speed up the progress of some major road projects.

The Metro Council voted unanimously Wednesday to accept portions of Nicholson Drive, River Road and Government Street on behalf of the city-parish.

The state will award Baton Rouge about $13 million in construction credits, which is supposed to cover 40 years of maintenance costs for the roads.

Public Works Director David Guillory said the move is just the first phase of roughly 100 miles of roads and $100 million worth of road credits East Baton Rouge Parish expects to eventually take from the state.

Nicholson Drive, River Road and Government Street were chosen for the first phase because there are active plans for those areas.

Changing Government Street from four lanes to two lanes with a turning lane and sidewalks or bike paths has long been a topic of discussion for the city-parish.

Guillory said taking control of the road will help expedite the project, but he could not nail down a timeline for construction for the council members. Pressed for an answer, he said he thought construction could reasonably begin in 2015.

Councilman Ryan Heck took issue with the fact that the first phase of the state road program involved three roads leading to downtown Baton Rouge.

“I’m kind of shocked that it has a whole lot of focus downtown and not the rest of the parish,” Heck said. “There’s a lot of other places in the parish.”

Guillory said he expected to return to the council later this year to approve the remainder of the roads in the state transfer program. He said the three roads before the council Wednesday are ripe for development and would serve as an initial test for the overall road program.

Nicholson Drive has drawn attention in recent months with the announcement of plans for the Water Campus, which is expected to spur development. There’s also been talk of building a $100 million streetcar line connecting downtown to LSU.

River Road also is becoming a more important thoroughfare with the addition of downtown developments such as River Park and IBM.

In other business, the Metro Council heard complaints from neighborhood associations in the southern part of the parish whose subdivisions have been torn up from road projects.

Wedgewood and Shenandoah Hills residents said road improvement projects destroyed their subdivision entrances in 2010, removing entrance signs, flagpoles, lights and sprinkler systems and digging up landscaping paid for by the homeowners.

“These are people who take great pride in their subdivisions,” Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso said.

The city-parish has damaged about 10 different entranceways because of the Green Light Plan, which is the parish-wide comprehensive road improvements plan, said Michael Songy, program manager.

He said it wasn’t reasonable to hire a landscape architect for each individual project, so he’s had to wait until several projects were finished so the landscaping work could be bundled.

So far, six of the road projects that caused damage were finished, Songy said, so a consultant is being hired to begin the work in the summer.

The remaining four projects also will be bundled once the road work is complete.