Alleviating I-10 traffic near Mississippi River bridge among Louisiana’s top transportation priorities, new official says

    He hasn’t even officially started his new job as Louisiana’s transportation chief, but Shawn Wilson already has an idea of which road projects should sit near the top of the state’s priority list.

    Among the highest of Wilson’s priorities: widening Interstate 10 east and west of the Mississippi River bridge in order to alleviate the Capital Region’s frustrating daily gridlock.

    “While this is the Capital City, we recognize that that corridor is an international corridor,” Wilson, the state’s new Department of Transportation and Development secretary, said today in a speech to the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “The products that are traveling on that corridor come from California to Florida and make their way through our state. It’s very important that we maintain and manage that corridor not just for Louisiana’s purposes, but for the nation’s economy.”

    I-10 gridlock has long been a headache for Capital Region drivers, and ideas have been discussed ad nauseam for decades, from the loop to the BUMP to everything else in between. Wilson touted the widening as a short-term solution that would only aid the other projects should they come to fruition.

    The natural question, of course, is where to find funding for this project or any other proposal, as the state grapples with what projects to be a $1.9 billion deficit for the next fiscal year.  Meanwhile, Louisiana’s transportation project backlog has now reached $12.7 billion, Wilson said.

    Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards’ transportation transition committee has released a report that recommends new taxes and fees as a possible new revenue source, The Associated Press reports.

    In his press club speech today, Wilson was cautious to commit to any one particular recommendation, saying he’ll meet with the committee in-depth on Tuesday to go over its findings. He did, however, suggest that maximizing federal resources, in particular new dollars freed up for the Capital Region through the FAST Bill, should help at least get these projects moving. 

    He also hailed the importance of investing state dollars in order to receive as much of a federal match as possible.

    “I think the approach, from the conversations I’ve had with the governor, is not selecting either of those (committee proposals) specifically, but having a robust conversation with the legislators, with the stakeholders, with the communities, about which one will give us the best value for the buck,” Wilson said.

    As could be expected, construction on any widening of I-10 wouldn’t begin immediately, Wilson said. But he seems intent on moving the project’s planning and preparation forward, along with other projects in that massive backlog.

    “I believe we can address that backlog,” Wilson said. “You just can’t do it all in one year. You can’t do it all in one budget cycle.”

    Among the state’s other priorities, according to Wilson: a new interchange at Loyola Drive in Kenner as New Orleans builds a new airport terminal; creating a railway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans; and finishing the Interstate 49 connector through Lafayette to New Orleans.

    —Robert Stewart

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