Iberville Parish Council approves West Bank Connector idea

The Iberville Parish Council has voted to join five other parishes to begin the process of planning for an ambitious new highway project called the West Bank Connector.

If built, the West Bank Connector would alleviate major delays for commuters crossing the Mississippi River on Interstate 10 and would provide another hurricane evacuation route, according to a presentation by Wilfred B. Barry, president of SJB Group, a Baton Rouge engineering firm.

The proposed West Bank Connector would also open up vast areas of undeveloped land along the river that could bring in thousands of new jobs and billions in revenue with new industry, he told the council during its Tuesday meeting.

“The skin in the game we’re asking of you tonight is $150,000 because Iberville Parish would be getting a new bridge,” Barry said. The other parishes that will be connected are being asked to pitch in $50,000 for the first phase of the plan, he said.

The Iberville council approved a resolution allocating the money.

The $1.65 billion project would begin with a four-lane highway that would swoop south from I-10 west of Port Allen to La. 1 south of Plaquemine, then branch off to cross the Mississippi River on a new bridge near LSU and St. Gabriel. La. 1 would be improved from Plaquemine to Donaldsonville, a section of La. 70 would also be improved and several other area highways would also be widened.

Part of the funding could come from state savings by closing ferries after the bridge is built and tolls can be reimposed on the Sunshine and Gramercy bridges, Barry said.

Officials in Ascension and Livingston parishes have discussed similar ideas while the idea of a Baton Rouge Loop — or at least a northern bypass — aimed at reducing traffic on I-10 and I-12 in Baton Rouge has run into opposition in some areas but is still alive.

Other items discussed during the meeting included:

PROCLAMATIONS: The council recognized Caroline Landry as 2012 Miss Iberville, proclaimed March 19 as “Gussie Lewis Day” in honor of 96-year-old Mrs. Gussie Jones Lewis and recognized Cliff “Chachie” LeGrange for a book he wrote on Bayou Pigeon.

ADJUDICATED PROPERTIES: A public hearing for an ordinance to establish an adjudicated properties program is planned in April. The parish owns more than 400 parcels of land due to tax delinquency issues that officials want to get back into private, tax-paying ownership.

MEDICAL FACILITY: The council approved a resolution granting Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. authority to act on behalf of the parish government in all matters relating to the Iberville Parish Medical Facility, which is set to go out to bid in the next month.