Firm hired to review traffic flow

State highway officials have hired a firm to study the feasibility of building roundabouts at 10 intersections on the Joe Sevario Road-Roddy Road corridor.

The $350,000 review of the north-south link on the eastern side of Ascension Parish will look at four-way intersections up to and including La. 42 and Airline Highway, a state highway spokesman said this week.

“The study will help identify which of these intersections would benefit from having a roundabout,” said state highway spokesman Dustin Annison.

Parish officials requested the study, Annison said.

Jason Taylor, parish engineer, told a Parish Council committee earlier this month that if roundabouts are found to be an option, a large amount of state safety money would be available with no required match from the parish.

“This is a big project,” Taylor told the Transportation Committee. “We’re talking a major safety project with a lot of money toward this.”

The roundabouts are generally estimated to cost about $1 million each but can cost more.

The 7.2-mile corridor, which is traffic cut-through where parish officials have said several severe crashes have happened, has been the focus of state and parish efforts to improve safety over the past several years. They include lane-widening projects and a road transfer in 2011 that brought a 2.2-mile section of that stretch into parish hands after the state resurfaced the road and did other improvements.

By August 2011, the transfer allowed the parish to put up long-debated four-way stop signs at the Joe Sevario/Merritt Evans-Devall roads intersection, the scene of past severe crashes and one of the intersections now being studied for a roundabout.

Roundabouts have been bandied about in Ascension for several years as a possible solution to moving traffic through Ascension’s grid of two-lane parish roads and state highways and improving safety.

Modern roundabouts are circular intersections without stop lights that carry continuous traffic flows but are said to improve safety by reducing the number of opportunities where opposing traffic intersects.

The state Department of Transportation and Development finished a $1.24 million roundabout at the La. 431/La. 42 interchange near Port Vincent in 2012. That roundabout was the first that DOTD built in the Baton Rouge area.

But several other roundabout proposals in Ascension — whether as part of a failed November 2012 half-cent sales tax for roads aimed at improving intersections or individual parish projects working through rights of way or pipeline conflicts — have not gotten off the ground.

State roundabouts proposed for the I-10/La. 30 interchange in Gonzales also appeared to be gaining momentum late last year when DOTD put them on hold and initiated a one-year review of the La. 30 corridor between La. 3251 and La. 44 amid concerns from some businesses. That study, which began in March, is expected to be finished in March 2015, DOTD officials have said.

The Joe Sevario/Roddy study, which began in May, is also expected to take a year to complete.

Akhil Chauhan, principal engineer and associate vice-president for Arcadis, the firm hired by DOTD to do the study, told the Parish Council Transportation Committee on Aug. 12 that the study will look at roundabouts but also look at stop signs and signal lights and compare them against one another.

“If the roundabout is not the option, then we’re going to see if the stop sign is the option or the signal,” said Chauhan, But he also noted that if the study were to point to traffic lights, then that intersection would have to meet specific criteria, known as warrants, for traffic lights to be installed.

A June 2007 multi-vehicle crash at the Joe Sevario/Merritt Evans-Devall intersection injured three, prompting suits that led to a $344,000 settlement in the spring of 2010. The parish contributed $90,000. The suits alleged a pecan tree branch covered a parish stop sign on Merritt Evans Road.

Previously, stops signs were located on parish roads Merritt Evans and Devall only, but not Joe Sevario, then La. 932, because DOTD said then that the traffic did not warrant the signs.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.