A long-awaited environmental assessment of the proposed widening of Interstate 10 through the heart of Baton Rouge is once again delayed—but this time only by a couple of weeks.
Officials at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development say the assessment— the second of several steps required by the federal government—was due Tuesday. But the state’s consultants are running about two weeks behind schedule. The report, which was originally supposed to be released in the fall of 2018, is now expected in mid-August.
Preparing the report has been a challenge for consultants and engineers because the proposed $350 million, 3.5-mile widening project will impact dozens of small businesses in the shadow of the elevated portion of I-10, as well as two proposed historic districts.
DOTD Spokesman Rodney Mallett says the latest delay is the result of “mitigation requirements for the historic structures in the two proposed historic districts and the one business grouping.”
Many residents and merchants in the area are anxiously awaiting the results of the assessment to see how the state plans to mitigate, or lessen, the impact of the widening on their homes and businesses.
They’ll get their chance to see the assessment report after officials with the state and Federal Highway Administration review it first. Once released to the public, the report will be available for public viewing for 30 days before a final public hearing, which will likely be sometime this fall, though Mallett says there’s no definite timeline yet.
“We will not rush through the (environmental assessment) process,” he says. “It’s important to the future of the project and the citizens of the state to have all the information needed when we hold the public hearing. Also of note, as we gather information, it opens up new avenues we need to research, which equals more added work and time.”
When the draft is finally presented, public comments will be allowed at the final public hearing. However, those comments will not change the recommendations in the report. Rather, they will be added to the back of the final assessment, which will then be presented to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Assuming the plan is approved, the state can then move forward with the next stages of the project, which include funding, design and procurement.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has previously announced a plan to fund the project using Grant Anticipated Revenue Bonds, though it is increasingly clear those monies will not cover the entire cost of what is expected to be a nearly decade-long project.
Last December, DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said it will be at least 2020 before any construction to widen I-10 will actually begin. It is unclear how the delays in the environmental assessment phase have affected that timeline.