In case you haven’t heard, the Interstate 10-Ryan Street off-ramp project is supposed to be let out for bids this summer and construction, say those in the know, will start before 2014.
Given that type of information, the optimists among us — including a contingent of government officials — will applaud the project, which has been talked about since the early 1990s.
If you look back over 23 years of stories written by this newspaper, you realize that the off-ramp was on the area’s needs list long before leaders and residents raised concerns over improvements to the Nelson Road-I-210 corridor.
The result: Cove Lane was saved from closure, improved and new designs are being made for an interchange due to expected traffic increases for the new Ameristar/Pinnacle casino; Nelson was widened and new exit ramps installed off I-210; and West Prien Lake Road was widened at Lake Street to help ease traffic congestion a stone’s throw from Nelson.
Considering the pace of planning and work in the southern part of the city, it would be easy to conclude that a novel about the Nelson Road-I-210 area and Ryan Street-I-10 area could be titled “A Tale of Two Highways.”
No conspiracy was devised by decision makers to stymie an off-ramp for one of the busiest and most important highways in the nation, that being I-10. Government moves at its own pace, even though after two decades nothing but studies and talk are all local, state and federal officials have to show for the Ryan Street exit ramp.
Admittedly, traffic congestion isn’t a problem off I-10 heading into downtown. But that section of town has been busy in spurts.
Remember, the first casino boat in the city opened in the early 1990s on Lake Charles. Today our downtown has stable businesses, thousands of people working and living in and around the district and millions in private investment. Don’t forget about the 40,000-60,000 vehicles that travel daily through the city on I-10.
Yet, no exit ramp.
In 2004, then state Sen. Willie Mount ran for Congress. Among her objectives: “Work to accelerate the bid-letting date for construction of the Ryan Street exit, which will create the structure needed to increase traffic flow and growth to downtown Lake Charles,” according to an American Press article.
History shows that she lost and the off-ramp continued to remain a dream.
In February 2010, Lori Marinovich, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, announced the actual plans for the I-10 exit ramp were 65 percent complete.
That bit of news was an improvement, but we can’t drive our vehicles on plans.
Last week, I sent an email to DOTD asking for a 2013 update and the response was, “The project has been in development for approximately ten years. This includes conducting the feasibility and environmental studies, securing funding, preliminary planning, letting the project and ultimately construction. The estimated cost ... is $5 million to $7.5 million.”
That answer convinces me that “A Tale of Two Highways” is an appropriate title.