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Louisiana receives federal grant funds to ease I-10 congestion

Louisiana will receive $60 million in FASTLANE grant funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation that will go toward widening a part of Interstate 10 near Lafayette, thus allowing the state to use the money originally allocated for that project to build a new Washington Street exit in Baton Rouge. The existing Washington Street exit creates a major bottleneck of vehicles coming off the Mississippi River Bridge.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration applied for $100 million in FASTLANE grant money earlier this year to help ease the state’s massive transportation construction backlog of more than $12 billion.

“Bringing our federal tax dollars back to Louisiana to improve our infrastructure is a no-brainer,” Edwards says in a statement.

Shawn Wilson, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development, says it could cost roughly $18 million to $25 million to build a new Washington Street exit on the left side of I-10, and that project could get started in late 2017 or early 2018.

Without environmental clearance from the feds, Wilson says he cannot close the existing Washington Street exit, but can only point people away from it and onto the new exit.

“It’s kind of the first step to adding a new one,” Wilson says.

The state already had plans and the environmental clearance for the I-10 widening project from the I-10/Interstate 49 interchange at the foot of the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, which is why the federal money will go to that project.The price tag for the widening project is about $300 million.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, praised the news about Louisiana receiving the grant and called it a big win for the state.

“We made a commitment to get this bottleneck addressed and are excited that the resources are finally in place to fix this problem,” Graves says in a statement. “This is a key step to solving some of the worst traffic in the nation. For too long, the people of south Louisiana have had to settle for talk. Today, we are getting action.”

The FASTLANE Program was inserted by Graves into the passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, to allow states the opportunity to compete for resources to help fund transportation projects.

The congressman is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and says he wanted to make sure Louisiana was able to compete with other states for the federal dollars by adding language to remove political influence from the process and make it merit-based.

“This project has extraordinary merit, one of the highest priorities in the state of Louisiana,” Graves says.

“Personally, our office, our team is pretty proud of this one,” he adds.

—Ryan Broussard

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