Major financing plan to widen I-10, improve New Orleans airport access coming together

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PUBLISHED JUL 25, 2018 AT 2:45 PM | UPDATED JUL 25, 2018 AT 3:29 PM

The state of Louisiana expects to finalize a borrowing plan with federal officials this year to widen Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge and other work, Louisiana’s transportation chief said Wednesday.

“I think it will be finished before the end of the year,” said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development. “It is not a point of concern.”

The financing is the key part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to borrow $600 million for three projects, including $360 million to widen I-10 between the Mississippi River bridge and the I-10/12 split in Baton Rouge. The money will also pay for improvements on I-10 in Kenner at Loyola Avenue to improve access to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

DOTD officials on Wednesday spelled out details of three public meetings on the Baton Rouge project set for Aug. 28, 29 and 30.

The gatherings, which state officials call an open house, will allow citizens to get up up-close look at improvements planned for one of the most heavily traveled, and congested, corridors in the Baton Rouge area.

Little has been said publicly about the project since the governor announced it in January.

The work will be largely funded through an arrangement where the state borrows money from the federal government, then pays it back yearly with a portion of federal dollars intended for state projects.

Wilson said the method — called Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds — has been used in 25 other states.

It would allow Louisiana to undertake a major project despite a nearly $14 billion backlog of road and bridge projects, and no sign of any major injection of state dollars for roads and bridges until at least 2021.

The projects have been endorsed by the state House and Senate transportation committees, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the State Bond Commission.

The borrowing agreement can be finalized by state and federal officials without congressional action.

“Once that gets signed I would expect we could then go back to the Bond Commission with a schedule, working on their terms on when is the best time to bond the money out and how do we go about that,” Wilson said.

Whether construction begins in 2019 or later is unclear.

Adding new lanes in each direction will take at least five years and possibly six or seven, officials said.

The corridor is about 3.5 miles long.

Exactly how much will be expanded is also unclear.

However, earlier concerns that lots of money might be required to replace interstate pavement, not just repair it, are being dispelled. “There is much more than can be retained and repaired instead of being entirely replaced,” Wilson said.

State officials plan to do the work in segments, such as between College Drive and the I-10/12 split, rather than a continuous progression from one end to the other.

Lane closures are also planned.

“I don’t anticipate that you are going to see something like 24-hour construction because you are driving through residential areas for the most part,” Wilson said.

State officials have vowed to keep the Washington Street exit, which will be reserved for eastbound traffic leaving the bridge.

Just where it will be, and what it will look like, is among the unresolved issues.

On Monday the governor, Wilson and others held a groundbreaking ceremony for an $8.8 million project that will redirect most Washington Street motorists to a new exit on Terrace Avenue of I-110 South.

Travelers will then be able to reach the Washington Street area using Terrace.

The aim is to end the practice of eastbound motorists having to force their way across multiple lanes to reach Washington Street.

The three public hearings will include a presentation at the start of the meeting.

The same information will be offered on tape that will run throughout the meeting. Also planned is a multi media outline of the project as well as exhibits. DOTD officials will be on hand to answer questions.

All three meetings will last from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.

They are Aug. 28, McKinley Middle Magnet School, 1550 Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive; Aug. 29, Addis Community Center, 7520 La. 1 South and Aug. 30, Baton Rouge Marriott, 5500 Hilton Ave.