Shawn Wilson Probably Needed To Have Quit At DOTD Before Today…

…because if Wilson was still the secretary of that department when it announced that the new Mississippi River bridge to be built somewhere south of downtown Baton Rouge would be a toll bridge, it would probably have sunk whatever chances he might have of becoming governor.

Nobody really thinks he has much of a chance to win anyway. But if you’re a Republican running against him you’ll probably do your best to hang this mess around his neck.

Traffic is an everyday headache for the residents of Baton Rouge. Several projects are being done by DOTD to help solve the city’s congested roadways, including a new Mississippi River Bridge.

“We have a three-pronged approach for dealing with traffic in Baton Rouge. One of which is to widen I-10 through town. Second is a south bridge and third is a north bypass. We’re focused on the I-10 widening project and the south bridge once those are underway we’ll look into the north bypass,” DOTD Secretary Eric Kalivoda said.

The bridge comes with a massive price tag of $1.5 billion dollars. So far the project has received $300 million in state budget funding. However, the budget alone will not cover the cost of the bridge.

“It will be a toll bridge and those tolls are expected to generate from $250-300 million, so we do have a fair amount of money. It’s not enough to do the whole thing but it’s a good starting point,” Kalivoda said.

The project has been narrowed down to three potential sites for the bridge and is currently in the environmental impact phase to determine which site is the safest and most effective route.

“These have to go through extensive environmental evaluation before narrowing it down to what’s called the preferred alternative. Within the next year, we’ll have a preferred alternative identified and then we can go ahead and complete the environmental process and move on to implementation,” Kalivoda said.

So they STILL don’t have a location set for this thing, and they won’t have one until next summer, but they can tell you they want a quarter of a billion dollars in tolls out of it.

And as we’ve noted before, the bridge’s proposed locations all would feed into Highway 30, or Nicholson Drive in Baton Rouge parlance. Highway 30 is a two-lane road from Bluebonnet Boulevard practically all the way to Gonzales, so it’s a poor receptacle for that bridge traffic, and what’s more, none of the surface streets in southwest Baton Rouge, save possibly for Burbank Drive, are well-suited to carry that traffic.

And where are those cars going to go? Because if you’re traveling east on I-10 coming from Lafayette and parts west, and your destination isn’t along I-1o from Ascension Parish to New Orleans, the new bridge is a waste of your time. Why? Because there is no way to get to I-12 from the eastern side of this new bridge without having to fight through stoplights on, for example, Bluebonnet Boulevard or Siegen Lane.

Nobody is going to do that. They’ll stay on the current I-10 bridge. Especially if they’re driving an 18-wheeler, and those 18-wheelers going through downtown Baton Rouge are the real reason for the daily traffic snarls; what Baton Rouge has needed for 25 years or more is a way for them to bypass downtown on their way to I-12, which will lead them to I-55, I-59, Mobile, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Jacksonville and all the other places you can get to from I-12 without having to take the long way through New Orleans.

And Kalivoda is talking about addressing that when he mentions a “north bypass.” Except there has been hot air generated about that for 25 years with no result.

It’s actually a pretty simple solution that Shawn Wilson has never gotten off his rear end to actively push. You upgrade the old Highway 190 bridge north of downtown and turn it into an interstate-quality roadway, you do the same for Highway 415 on the west side of the river so there’s a decent approach road, and then you use upgrades to Highway 190 and Highway 61, or Airline Highway, to connect that to I-12. Build an elevated roadway with a service road on the surface much like the West Bank Expressway in New Orleans, and you’ll likely spark some economic development along that corridor where there is absolutely none right now.

And the truckers will gleefully take that northern loop and vacate your downtown.

The southern bridge does zero about that problem. Not unless DOTD also builds an interstate-quality roadway that runs from that bridge to I-1o somewhere in Ascension Parish, and then from there east and then north to connect to I-12 in a southern loop around the Baton Rouge area.

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If you want to have a fun and depressing exercise, what you can do is open Google Maps and scroll around looking for a corridor of undeveloped land you could use to build that roadway. A hint: you can’t do it. You’re going to be knocking down some half-million-dollar houses somewhere along that way, because this is a project that needed to be built in the 1980’s or 1990’s before northern Ascension Parish turned into a heavily-populated, well-to-do area.

Which as a function of what DOTD – which stands for Department of Transportation and Development, after all – is supposed to do is an unmitigated failure which calls for a dynamiting of the whole agency and starting over with something else.

Obviously this isn’t all Wilson’s fault. But when his solutions that Kalivoda is trying to tout include a $1.5 billion toll bridge that essentially benefits people who live in Prairieville and work at the Dow Chemical plant on the west bank and not too many others and the genius idea to reduce I-10 through the heart of Baton Rouge to one lane each way for a year, it’s not like those old failures have gotten better over the seven years he ran the department.

But Wilson’s running for governor, dontcha know, and he’d like your vote so he can do for the rest of the state what he’s done for DOTD.

Bless his heart. Something tells us he’s going to struggle with selling his legacy at that agency.

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