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Louisiana officials pitching El Camino Highway project

Published 12:10am Thursday, July 25, 2013

BATON ROUGE — Local officials are working to improve Louisiana’s dead last status in the El Camino Highway project.

Officials will travel to Baton Rouge today in hopes of convincing the Department of Transportation to expedite the four-laning of U.S. 84.

The project spans 168 miles in Louisiana and more than 1,700 miles from Georgia to Texas. Louisiana’s portion has an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, according to Concordia Parish Economic Development Director Heather Malone.

Louisiana’s progress in the project has fallen behind neighboring states at only 15 percent completion.

El Camino Commission member Mike Tinnerello said the project fell behind because the Department of Transportation placed a higher priority on finishing other projects.

Mississippi completed its portion of the project in 2011. Texas is at 73 percent completion, and Alabama is at 52 percent completion.

Malone said the presentation may not directly equal billions of dollars but will place the project on the Department of Transportation’s watch list.

“We won’t sign on the dotted line and get money after this presentation, but it will move up in priority,” she said.

El Camino Commission President Janet Sullivan said the presentation would focus on the project’s economic benefits to the area.

“A four-lane road makes it easier to get goods to market than a two-lane road,” Sullivan said. “Once the road is four-laned, it can be used to pitch to potential businesses.”

Sullivan also said U.S. 84 would be able to handle more traffic during emergency evacuations after the project is completed.

“During evacuation, highways were bumper-to-bumper-to-bumper for two days,” she said. “A four-lane highway would make it easier for traffic to flow on U.S. 84 but also allow people to veer off onto U.S. 84 from I-55.”

In addition to parish officials, Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols will travel to Baton Rouge to talk about how Mississippi’s completion has already helped his town.

“Traffic has increased on U.S. 84 in Monticello since Mississippi finished its portion of the project,” Nichols said. “We have already seen jobs created as a result of this project. I think it would also help economic development in Louisiana.”

Though Louisiana’s portion of the project will not be completed for many years, construction may soon begin on certain sections, Malone said.

She specifically referenced the Louisiana Avenue and E.E. Wallace Boulevard intersection.

“The study has already been done, and I think there is already money set aside for construction,” she said. “That is one of the first that may get started in our area.”