If you’ve been waiting to review the environmental assessment report on the proposed widening of Interstate 10 through the heart of Baton Rouge you’ll have to wait until at least November.
Officials with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development say the assessment—originally set for release in the fall of 2018 and, more recently, was expected sometime this month—will not be ready for public review until the late fall at the earliest.
DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallet says the release of the assessment—the second of several steps required by the federal government—has not been delayed or pushed back because a firm release date was never scheduled.
“There is a process we have to follow and as we gather information, we discover we need more information before we can present everything to the public,” Mallet says. “Thoroughness and accuracy is important to the project.”
That said, when state officials originally announced in early 2018 they had identified a funding source for the $350 million project, they laid out a timeline that indicated the environmental assessment would be completed by the fall of 2018, and a final public hearing would be set for late 2018.
That timeline has been adjusted several times, with a proposed date for the environmental assessment moving from last fall to February, to late March, to mid-summer and, now, maybe, November.
The environmental assessment is a key step in the process of any major interstate construction project. This particular report is anxiously awaited because the proposed 3.5-mile widening will impact dozens of small businesses in the shadow of the elevated portion of I-10, as well as two proposed historic districts.
Earlier this summer, Mallett said one of the challenges facing consultants working on the report were the “mitigation requirements for the historic structures in the two proposed historic districts and the one business grouping.”
It’s also possible that construction costs have gone up or that no one wants to hold contentious public meetings about what will be a major city-wide disruption before the fall elections.
But Mallet says DOTD is focused only on following the federal requirements as it moves through the process.
“DOTD has been following the NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) processes and will only release a document that is complete and thorough and approved by the Federal Highway Administration for distribution,” he says.