I-10 widening through Baton Rouge could start next year

Construction could start as early as the fall of 2019 on the $350 million widening of Interstate 10 through Baton Rouge, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said Monday.

The project, once complete, will widen I-10 from the base of the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split. Completed in phases, Wilson estimates road work will take between five to seven years to finish.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been this close to what is the holy grail of traffic solutions in Louisiana,” Wilson said at Monday’s Press Club meeting at the Belle of Baton Rouge atrium.

He anticipates 95% of the funding will come from the federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds proceeds and the remaining 5% from local funding sources.

Known as GARVEE bonds, it allows the state to repay the debt with federal highway funds the state receives each year. The debt, totaling between $60 million and $70 million for the state, will be paid over 12 years. In other words, the state can use federal money it expects to get in the future to bond construction work in the present.

Public meetings start next week in Addis and Baton Rouge to gather public input on the project.

Last week, the State Bond Commission blocked Citigroup and Bank of America—two of the nation’s largest banks—from being involved in the $600 million road-financing plan, which includes the I-10 widening project, because they have policies restricting gun sales and manufacturing. That move, says Wilson, could potentially raise the project’s price tag, adding there remains 15 to 20 other banks the state could work with to finance the deal.

“It’s equivalent to us building a house and not being able to buy any materials or supplies from Home Depot or Lowes because they control a big part of the market,” Wilson said. “I can go to the local store, or I can go to another store in another city under another brand, but it’s going to potentially cost me more and cost in quality of what we get.”

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