Baton Rouge Loop engineers staffing a public meeting here last week said Iberville Parish is still in the running for a Mississippi River bridge as part of the project, but Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. didn't think the signs were good.


 

Baton Rouge Loop engineers staffing a public meeting here last week said Iberville Parish is still in the running for a Mississippi River bridge as part of the project, but Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. didn't think the signs were good.

A bridge between Plaquemine and White Castle is among three being considered as part of the southern part of the massively expensive project that is in the planning process. The other two  potential sites are in West Baton Rouge Parish.

Joseph Cains of Loop contractor ABMB said a decision on the final corridor would be made at the end of this year or in early 20111.

Ourso told the Iberville Parish Council last Tuesday (January 19) that Loop designers set a workshop on land use planning and bridge approaches in West Baton Rouge next month was an indication that the neighboring parish has the edge.

“It sounds like a foregone conclusion to me,” the parish president said.

The workshop was announced before last Wednesday's public forum at the Carl F. Grant Civic Center.

“That's an insult,” Ourso told the council.

“It's not coming from the loop team,” said Edd Manges of HNTB, one of the contractors on the project. “We haven't made any decision.”

Steve Wallace of ABNB Engineers, Inc. said he had told Ourso personally Iberville has not been eliminated.

“We wouldn't be spending all this time and effort if it was a done deal,” he said.

“He's not a decision-maker,” the parish president said. “I don't have any indications, period.”

Ourso serves on the Capital Area Expressway Authority's Executive Committee with the parish presidents whose parishes might be included in the project. He started the year saying that working with the four other parish presidents to get a bridge for Iberville was his new year's resolution.

In a telephone interview Tuesday morning, Ourso noted comments cited in a Baton Rouge Advocate story from Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer that the southern part of the proposed loop is “not viable” as further evidence his hopes for an Iberville bridge could be dashed.

The newspaper also quoted Walker Mayor Bobby Font as saying the northern route would be much easier to accomplish because it doesn't have as many wetlands issues as the southern part.

Ourso said the executive committee has not called a meeting in some time.

“No one has ever talked about any funding – where is it going to come from?” the parish president said.

A 2008 report set the cost of the project at between $3.6 billion and $4.5 billion, and indicated funding would come from public and private sources, along with tolls.

At the Civic Center meeting, Wallace said Iberville residents at the meeting were enthusiastic about the Loop. Some 30 attended over the course of three hours.

“The fact it is a toll road didn't seem to be a problem,” he said.

Loop planners said the land use workshops are being scheduled in only three of the five parishes included in the project planning, they said.

Iberville and East Baton Rouge residents are welcome at the ones set in February 8 Livingston Parish and February 9 in West Baton Rouge at the Addis Community Center, they said. A third workshop will be in Ascension Parish.

Meanwhile, traffic and the required environmental impact studies are underway in this phase of the project.

“A traffic model is being fine-tuned right now,” Cains said.

He said it would be released with draft of an environmental impact statement expected in July.

The impact statement will be discussed at a series of public meetings in September, said Madeleine Rogers of URS Corp.

The next phase of the project – right of way acquisition, construction planning and the start of construction – set for 2013-16.

But, Manges said, that is contingent on how fast the Loop team can find funding.