LAPLACE — “We need access.”
St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom spoke those definitive words about Interstate 10 access at the River Region Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Parish Presidents Forum earlier this month when asked about the parish’s transportation needs.
Although simply three words, the need for an additional access point to I-10 has been something parish officials and residents have expressed for years.
Officials and residents agree an improved and quicker access route to I-10 has the potential to reduce commute times and enable emergency personnel a way to reach certain areas of the parish faster.
Robottom made it clear at the forum she needed parish residents to attend a public hearing to show their support for the project, which Director of Communications Paige Falgoust said will be held sometime this summer at the Regala Gymnasium in Reserve.
Robottom said this week the Port of South Louisiana, local industry and South Central Louisiana Technical College could all benefit from a more direct access to Reserve, and such a route would have positive impact by reducing the amount of truck traffic passing through residential areas and down Airline Highway.
Robottom said a new I-10 access point would also provide, among other benefits, an additional evacuation route to parish residents. She said the route is essential considering both parish Interstate ramps flooded during 2012’s Hurricane Isaac, and access to St. James and St. Charles Parishes was also not an option because of flooding.
She said the benefit of the storm was that it “brought attention to our vulnerability.”
And although Hurricane Isaac’s flooding shone a spotlight on the issue, discussions and planning for the new route have been taking place for years.
The project’s history dates back to 2004, when a draft version “Port of South Louisiana Connector Road Environmental Assessment” was completed.
The fight for increased access gained momentum in August 2009, when various state and local officials laid very early groundwork for a future interchange during a public hearing. Residents and engineers listened as project representatives discussed alternatives for the interchange, which would cut through wetlands in the Reserve area.
At that hearing, project consultant Bruce Richards said any and all alternatives for the interchange would have to pass specific guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Twelve build alternatives were developed, but three were deemed impractical for the environment. Each of the nine build alternatives left underwent analysis, and in April 2012 a public meeting was held to present those alternatives.
In 2011, N-Y Associates conducted a traffic study along Airline Highway. Before the study, which was conducted for the Regional Planning Commission, an environmental assessment was done, resulting in a call for a full Environmental Impact Statement.
In April 2013, The Federal Highway Administration, in cooperation with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and the Regional Planning Commission, held another public information meeting in the parish on the topic where four proposals were unveiled.
The agencies undertook the Environmental Impact Statement to examine access options from the Reserve area along US 61 to I-10, and announced they had identified two build alternatives.
The alternatives, referred to as AP6B and P-1, would each hypothetically save drivers’ travel time, but take considerably different routes.
AP6B would extend from Airline Highway at W. 10th Street/Regala Park Road in a straight shot northwest to I-10, and include an elevated roadway over a portion of the wetlands. This proposal would affect roughly 49 acres of wetlands and could save parish drivers 27,825 minutes of gross travel time per day by 2028.
The other build project, P-1, extends north from Airline Highway at East 22nd Street/Louisiana 3179, then turns northeast to join Belle Terre Boulevard, just south of the Belle Terre interchange. This proposal would affect 31 acres of wetlands, and save drivers roughly 44,656 minutes of gross travel time per day by 2028.
DOTD Public Information Officer Bambi Hall said she was “neither able to say when/if these projects may be constructed, nor identify their funding sources at this time.”
Several agencies, including the DOTD and the Federal Highway Administration will ultimately choose which proposal to push into the next phase of development, but Robottom said one thing is clear: “We’re going to fight for it.”