In early 2018 Governor John Bel Edwards announced a plan to borrow future federal funds to pay for critical roadway projects in Louisiana. The widening of I-10 from the “new” Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split was one of those critical projects identified for funding. Its inclusion represented a huge win for the Capital Region, despite the monetary set-aside covering only about half of the total project cost. Everyone who lives in the Capital Region or drives through it understands the interstate is the main transportation artery – for better or worse!
Since this announcement, various aspects of the planning, engineering and permitting have been undertaken on this project. One component, a flyover from I-10 to College Drive has been advanced through a design-build contract and will be constructed in 2021.
For the main segment of the project, we are now approaching some critical decisions. The CONSTRUCTABLITY determinations for the first phase of the project will be made in 2021. How the state builds the project will determine how well traffic flows during the construction and how long the construction takes. This decision will have major implications for traffic in Baton Rouge for a number of years. An example of the constructability tradeoffs would be fast-tracking constructing by reducing traffic from three lanes to two lanes in each direction for periods of the construction. In the alternative, a longer construction timeframe may require fewer restrictions on traffic flow and may allow there to be three lanes of traffic open in each direction throughout the project.
The constructability conversation is complicated due to the state not having all of the money for the project in the bank. The state only has money for the first of several phases. How long will it take to construct the full project? Will there be time gaps between the phases? Would it be better to build the project all at once and not in phases? Should we seek funding to expedite this project? These are important questions for the Capital Region, particularly since a slow construction schedule could result in the project taking over a decade to build. Ideally, the project would be completed as quickly as possible, which would necessitate expediting funding, to relieve the region’s terrible traffic congestion.
Everyone in Baton Rouge has a stake in this decision and the business community certainly has a significant interest given the implications this decision will have on customers, employees and products. The Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS) will be engaged in the planning process in support of a construction plan that supports the continued growth of the region. Ultimately, this project must be driven by community leadership. It will be our community living with the implications of this decision for years to come. Stay tuned for your chance to engage on this issue in 2021.
Scott Kirkpatrick is the executive director of Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS), which provides a leadership voice from the business community to address the Capital Region’s transportation crisis, by identifying solutions and advocating for their prioritization and funding.