By Timothy Boone
Advocate business writer
September 29, 2012
The state will add a northbound lane to the 1-mile section of Essen Lane between Perkins Road and Interstate 10 to improve traffic flow along Baton Rouge’s major medical corridor.
Gov. Bobby Jindal announced plans Friday for the $12 million project during a news conference at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Funding that would have been used to improve the interchange at Interstate 12 and Essen will be shifted to the widening project.
Jindal, who was flanked by Sherri LeBas, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, members of the local legislative delegation and Scott Wester, CEO of Our Lady of the Lake, said development along Essen — much of which is being driven by the ongoing expansion of the medical center — made widening the road a priority.
“I grew up in this area and there was not a whole lot out here back then, other than for Our Lady of the Lake and Jimmy Swaggart (Ministries),” Jindal said. But now the area is booming and it is important to improve the roads in order to keep up with the economic growth, he said.
Construction of the additional lane will begin in summer 2014 and the project has a tentative completion date of summer 2015, said Jodi Conachen, a DOTD spokeswoman.
To minimize the impact on Essen Lane businesses, many of which are located close to the street, a limited amount of right of way will be taken from both sides of the road, not just the side where the lane is being added, Conachen said.
Adding the lane will increase capacity on Essen Lane northbound by 30 percent, according to DOTD estimates. This will reduce congestion and delays for the more than 35,000 motorists who travel along the section of Essen from Perkins to I-10 each day.
Wester said the project will improve access for the 5,000 people who work at Our Lady of the Lake, along with the patients being treated at the medical center and their families.
Jindal said the analysis of the Essen/I-12 interchange project was based on traffic data from the 1990s. At the same time, some of the ongoing road projects done by the state and the city, such as the widening of I-10, I-12 and Staring Lane, have improved traffic flow in the area.
In order to move the money to the Essen widening project, DOTD has submitted an application for a capital outlay scope change to the Interim Emergency Board, which will set a date for a meeting. After the IEB meeting is held, ballots will be sent to legislators within three days. Legislators will then have 17 days to respond. Once that process is approved by legislators, DOTD will conduct an environmental study, start engineering and design work and acquire rights of way.
Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, who attended the news conference along with fellow Baton Rouge Republicans Rep. Franklin Foil and Sen. Dan Claitor, said he was pleased that a section of Essen Lane will be improved. “We’re going to do Bluebonnet next, then Siegen,” Carter said, joking.
“One at a time,” Jindal said.