Firm to Study Toll Road Potential in West Baton Rouge Parish

Wed May 30, 2012 - Southeast Edition
CEG


An estimated 44,000 vehicles cross the Port Allen bridge daily.
An estimated 44,000 vehicles cross the Port Allen bridge daily.

PORT ALLEN, La. (AP) West Baton Rouge Parish officials have taken what they say is an important next step in building a toll road linking La. Highway 415 to La. 1.

Parish President Riley Berthelot told The Advocate a consulting engineering firm has been hired to produce a highly accurate picture of the project’s revenue potential.

Berthelot said the parish’s transportation authority was entering into an agreement with the CDM Smith firm to conduct a $460,000, eight-month study aimed at obtaining the needed information.

CDM Smith’s study is being financed through a state grant, Berthelot said.

The La. 1 connector route is a project Berthelot has been pushing for more than a decade.

The parish president said he believes the proposed roadway, estimated to cost $30 million, would help reduce traffic congestion caused by vehicles using the existing Port Allen bridge across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Berthelot said about 44,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily in a parish that has a population of 24,000 people.

The proposed toll road, or connector route, initially would consist of two lanes able to handle about 12,000 vehicles per day, he said. Additional lanes could be added as traffic volume increases, Berthelot added.

Jonathon Hart, project manager with CDM Smith, said the “investment grade” study will consist of a comprehensive report comprised of travel demand models, analysis on both a toll-free plan and tolled roadway, more than 400 surveys polling residents on how much they are willing to pay to use the alternative route and a detailed financial model.

“We’re trying to determine if there is sufficient demand that will generate enough revenue to support the endeavor,” Hart said. “It will be important to determine how much it’s worth to folks to save 10 minutes on their travel time, for example.”

Berthelot said the study’s financial data also would help planners determine whether the parish would be able to build the connector route through bond-issued funds or with the help of a private investor.

“If it’s short of our estimates, we’ll have to figure out any gaps where the parish may need to come in and supplement funds,” he said.

A private contractor could agree to cover construction costs and recoup its money through tolls during several decades of ownership, he added. Control of the route and its revenue would then be passed on to the parish, which would then start receiving revenue from the toll road.

Although it has been a rough road to get to this point, Gary Spillman, chairman of the Parish Council, said Berthelot still has “100 percent” of the council’s support and that council members are hoping the study’s findings will keep the project moving forward as it originally was planned.

“Everything has told us this will probably be a private/public venture [and] at some point in time the parish would own it,” Spillman said. “We’ll have revenue coming in off this thing in the future if it works out the way we’re seeing it.”