BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) State officials are facing opposition to plans to widen Interstate 10 through Baton Rouge from businesses and residents near Perkins Road, an area prized for its locally owned restaurants, bars and shops.
“It will devastate the area,” Troy Menier, whose family has operated Troy’s Barber Shop since 1969, told The Advocate.
Roughly a decade ago, state leaders proposed a $200 million plan to widen I-10 from the foot of the Mississippi River Bridge to Essen Lane. But the proposal died amid heavy criticism, much of it from the Perkins Road overpass vicinity.
Sherri LeBas, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development, announced on Nov. 10 that the state plans to seek public input on ways to improve traffic along the 4 mi. corridor. Public hearings could begin in March.
“We all know that we have a bottleneck from the bridge out to the split,” LeBas said. “And we need to try to figure out what are some solutions that we could implement to help the traffic flow more smoothly through that area, especially in light of all the widening work we have done to the east of the I-10/12 corridor.”
However, business leaders who went through the earlier battle said they are skeptical about reopening the topic.
“It will be a mess around here, it really will,” said Steve Yellot, the owner of Bolton’s Pharmacy, which has been in operation since the 1950s. “The construction would be horrible.”
Danny Plaisance, who has been the owner of Cottonwood Books for 26 years, thinks that any plan to widen I-10 would trigger a bigger firestorm than a decade ago. “I tell you there will be more opposition than there was before,” Plaisance said.
“First off, one would think they would have to close Perkins Road,” he said. “It could be six months or more. That would not be very good.”
The state is spending $1.2 million for a consultant’s study on possible answers to the traffic tie-ups.
LeBas said earlier that she wants residents to offer options for improvements, not just opposition to possible answers.
The transportation secretary also said she is mindful of the appeal of the Perkins Road overpass areas, including locally owned restaurants, bars and shops and near a neighborhood known as “The Dales” because of the street names, including Glendale, Ferndale and Hollydale.
Business owner and Metro Council member Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, an outspoken critic of the earlier plan, said the traffic delays stem from a poor decision decades ago to route the interstate through the center of Baton Rouge.
“Poor planning leads to more poor planning,” Bourgeois said.
He said he would oppose any new attempt to widen I-10. “I was pretty vocal then and will be again,” said Bourgeois, who operates Georges, a bar and restaurant located under the interstate.
Tricia Elliott, the manager of Ivar’s Sports Bar & Grill, said she does not want traffic improvements to be at the expense of her livelihood.
“I wouldn’t have a job,” Elliott said. “I like my job and my neighborhood the way it is.”