PRAIRIEVILLE — Officials and residents in Ascension Parish are optimistic about a possible four-lane, north-south parkway that would connect Interstates 10 and 12.
The parkway, an alternative to a private toll road that has been discussed for the past two years, would use mostly existing state highways to connect I-10 in Gonzales and Sorrento with I-12 near Livingston and Walker.
The three possible alternatives — one using the existing bridge over the Amite River at Port Vincent, and two that would construct new bridges east and west of Port Vincent — were presented by designers at a public meeting in order to get feedback from Ascension residents.
Ray Miller, the senior project manager for Ascension Parish, said officials do not have a preferred alternative at the moment, but he said there were several reasons for supporting the project.
“It would provide a better, safer, faster connection” between the two parishes, he said.
Ben Laurie, Ascension Parish government’s chief engineer, said the parkway would help “lessen the load” on parish roads. Many people commute from Livingston Parish into Ascension Parish because they work at plants near the Mississippi River. When La. 431 gets backed up, Laurie said, drivers cut over to parish roads such as Roddy and Joe Sevario roads, as well as La. 44.
“It would help pull a lot of traffic off a lot of local roads,” he said.
Designers with Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., the engineering firm serving as the lead consultant on the project, were on hand to answer questions about the project, as well as take feedback from the public.
Those suggestions, as well as others gathered from a similar open meeting in Livingston Parish on Tuesday, will be consolidated in a new report and delivered to parish officials.
Gonzales resident Don Weinell said he attended Wednesday’s meeting to make sure designers are including bicycle and pedestrian access into plans for the parkway.
“It’s a brand-new project, and now’s the perfect time to make sure that it’s bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly,” he said.
Weinell said he didn’t have a preference among the three alternatives, but he’s hopeful the project can move forward.
“Livingston and Ascension parishes are both going to continue to grow,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. You can either be proactive and plan for growth, or 20 years from now you can shake your head and say, ‘What happened?’ ”
Skeptics, however, wondered if the project would even get started in that time frame anyway. Because the project is still in the feasibility study segment, there’s no real timetable as to when funding from the state Department of Transportation and Development would be available.
Miller said construction could begin in eight to 10 years. However, Ascension Parish Councilman Todd Lambert isn’t a believer yet.
“They say 10 years, but that’s kind of doubtful,” he said.
Lambert, who joined the Parish Council in 1996, said council members were discussing expanding La. 42 then. That project is expected to begin construction later this year.
The top priority would be funding the parkway project, which is estimated to cost between $225 million and $285 million. Lambert joked with state Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, Wednesday night about where the legislator would find $250 million for the project.
“The federal government is cutting back. The state is cutting back. That’s where the majority of the funding comes from,” Lambert said.
His skepticism, however, doesn’t mean Lambert doesn’t support the project. While he said he believes it would help Livingston residents more than Ascension residents, he said a new route across the Amite River has been needed for quite some time.
“I think it would be a heavily used highway both ways,” Lambert said.