State highway contractors are expected this spring to start expanding Louisiana Highway 70 in Ascension and St. James parishes to handle continued industrial growth in the Mississippi River corridor.
The $50.2 million project will widen La. 70 from two to four lanes between the La. 22 roundabout in Sorrento and the foot of the Sunshine Bridge at the river, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) officials said Feb. 13.
In April, contractors will build a new two-lane section of La. 70 parallel to the current highway, according to the Advocate, a Baton Rouge news source. The work is expected to be finished in the spring of 2025, pending weather delays.
DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson made the announcement during a groundbreaking ceremony along La. 70 near the foot of the bridge, just two days before he announced his retirement from the state agency after seven years as its leader and a total of 16 years with the department.
Wilson said DOTD "saw the need to move [the La. 70] project forward" because of industrial activity in the area.
"This capacity project will be immensely beneficial to this region as it continues to grow and will allow for easier and safer travels for the businesses and industry of the region, as well as the citizens who use La. 70 on a regular basis," he added.
DOTD officials told the Advocate that La. 70 carries about 33,000 vehicles per day and is expected to see that traffic number rise by more than half in 20 years, to 50,000 vehicles daily.
The highway, south of Baton Rouge, is an important link between Interstate 10 at Sorrento and the Mississippi River bridge and is a key route for employees of several petrochemical plants in the area.
They include CF Industries near Donaldsonville, the now shuttered Shell Oil refinery in Convent, Mosaic facilities on both sides of the river, the AmSty plant down river of La. 70, the Veolia Burnside complex, and maritime businesses on River Road. Shell has plans to reopen the oil refinery between La. 70 and River Road as a smaller alternative fuels plant.
Officials Hope Expansion Will Lead to Area Growth
The roadway lies within the district of Louisiana Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, who called the expansion "yet another huge project for District 81 that will help relieve traffic and create an industrial corridor for Ascension and St. James parishes."
"This will benefit the people and the region with future growth for jobs and industry," he added.
Other legislators who represent the area, along with the parish presidents of Ascension and St. James, also welcomed the DOTD work.
"Increasing the traffic capacity at every one of our Mississippi River crossings is going to open up a lot more economic development growth and opportunities," St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne told the Advocate.
DOTD officials and Shell had talked about widening La. 70 for several years when the oil giant was considering significant expansions on land near its Convent refinery, which closed in 2020. When the oil refinery was open, daily shift changes often triggered significant backups on the highway.
Gilchrist Construction Co., in Alexandria, La., won the contract to expand La. 70 with an offer of $3 million under the $53 million construction estimate, the Advocate learned from DOTD documents.
Crews are currently working on utility relocations.
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