The state’s plans to widen a 3.5-mile stretch of Interstate 10 through the heart of Baton Rouge have been slowed, at least in part, because two neighborhoods that would be affected by the widening have been identified as potential national historic districts.
Louisiana Department of Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson says Hundred Oaks and Old South Baton Rouge, both of which comprise homes and businesses that would be directly impacted by the proposed $350 million widening project, are eligible to become historic districts.
“This doesn’t mean we don’t do the project because something has been declared historic or might be declared historic,” Wilson says. “But they have applied so we have to honor that.”
The proposed widening project, which would also involve replacing the entire support structure of all elevated portions of the 55-year-old highway, is currently in the environmental assessment phase, which is the second of several steps required by the federal government. A feasibility study prepared by the state’s engineers and based, in part, on public input from three community meetings last August, was originally to have been completed last fall and presented at a public hearing last December. Now, Wilson says, it will be mid-summer before the report is complete.
It does not appear either neighborhood has formally begun the application process to become designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, which is an arm of the federal government. The executive director of Preserve Louisiana was unaware of any formal efforts, though the idea has been bandied about—especially in Old South Baton Rouge—for years.
Officials with the state office of cultural development haven’t seen any paperwork. Their office would have to approve and then forward any application to become a historic district to the National Register.
But Kristin Sanders, assistant secretary for Cultural Development, says it is typical in the environmental assessment phase of a major infrastructure project for the state to identify potential cultural and historic districts and then plan accordingly.
“This is just part of the process,” she says.
Even if one or both of the neighborhoods are eventually designated as historic districts, Wilson says the widening project would still move forward, albeit with a more thoughtful and perhaps deliberative planning process.
“If there is a historic district there is some merit in saying, how do we highlight some of the unique features of the area? How do we do a better job with landscaping?” he says. “All of those are factors that go into the planning of what we do.”
Wilson says the project could take as long as 8-10 years, though no single stretch of highway would be under construction for the entire duration.