Three years after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced funding had been identified to begin widening a busy stretch of Interstate 10 through Baton Rouge from the Mississippi River to the I-10/I-12 split, several key questions about the project remain unanswered, such as: which section of highway will be widened first, how much of the aging superstructure under I-10 will be replaced while the road widening is underway, and what are the mitigation plans for the handful of small businesses and homes that stand in the path of the expansion?
Those answers should come soon, perhaps by the end of the first quarter, according to Perry Franklin, whose consulting firm is handling outreach on the project.
Since last spring, the construction manager selected by the state for the project, Huval and Associates, has been working on constructability documents, which will address many of the specific issues related to the project.
“How do you keep interstate commerce moving while you are reconstructing the interstate?” Franklin says. “You cannot take down the ramp coming off the bridge eastbound on I-10, so what do you do? Those are the kinds of things they are thinking about and working on now that will lead them to determine which segment they will begin work on first.”
More specifics will come from a key document expected soon from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI—that will be based on issues and concerns raised at community meetings conducted in Baton Rouge throughout much of 2019.
“The FONSI will give a final determination of the mitigations—which sections need sound walls, which don’t, what do you do with the businesses that will be impacted, with the City Park Lake,” Franklin says. “All those kinds of determinations will be spelled out.”
Until the federal report is issued and integrated into the constructability documents, it’s too soon to say whether all or just parts of the more than 60-year-old superstructure will be replaced and which segment of highway will be tackled first.
“There may be a decision that says, because we have X amount of money, we’ll do 100 percent of this segment first, versus a part of this segment and a part of another,” he says. “Plus, how long will it take to put together the right of way. So there are constructability, funding and rights of way factors. It’s still a little premature.”
That said, motorists will see construction work on I-10 this year because a related component of the project—a $52.3 million flyover ramp at the westbound exit of College Drive—is ready to get underway.
“That part will get done quickly,” Franklin says. “They were able to peel that project off. It has been let and they’re ready to go.”