Home stretch: West Prien Lake Road project expected to be completed by spring of 2025

Published 7:13 am Sunday, June 23, 2024

Tuesday, the Kiwanis Club of Lake Charles heard from Mark Eckard who updated members about the West Prien Lake Road improvements.      

“This project is finally coming to an end,” Eckard said. “It should be completed by spring of next year.”

Eckard is in his fourth term as City Councilman, District G. The construction (south of Interstate 210) will widen W. Prien Lake Road from Cove Lane to Ihles Road. The project is a joint venture between the city of Lake Charles and the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and was initiated due to existing and projected increased traffic in the area, according to Katie Harrington, city of Lake Charles spokesperson.

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The project has been a longer time in the making than some may realize, 10 to 12 years.

“When you undertake a project like this, you just don’t go do it,” Eckard said. “You do just like you do at your house, you start putting money aside.”

Eckard is prepared to field phone calls from his constituents and help solve problems, but it is financing, budgeting, and the cost-efficient delivery of government services that is the financial advisor’s bailiwick.

In September 2015, funds for the project were approved as part of the capital budget. The city of Lake Charles began allocating funds in Fiscal Year 2016. Engineering, design and acquiring rights of way took three to four years, according to a January 2024 American Press article, which stated the contractor, Siema Construction, signed the contract to begin in August 2021.

The original bid came in at $22,750,000. Construction cost to date is $24,803,000.

“Despite facing challenges from impacts of the 2021 disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, the project remains on schedule,” Harrington said. “Some of the major challenges faced have included extensive private utility relocations and supply chain issues with road base materials early on and in the construction stage.”

The city has reallocated funds originally set aside for Phase 2 to make up the difference, according to Eckard.

“It’s not just a road project per se,” Eckard said, explaining that in addition to engineering, design and work of creating the surface of the street there is also work that goes on beneath the surface, including drainage and moving utilities including water and sewer. Drainage was upgraded from a 24-inch pipe to a 72-inch pipe.

Growth and change       

It was 20 years ago when the DOTD announced plans to close the Cove Lane (West Prien Lake) ramp exiting from I-210 for up to six months. The city fought with the state Legislature to keep the Cove Lane exit open. The late Dan Flavin, a state representative at the time, was instrumental in the victory.

“Once they made that beautiful exit ramp and you have all this growth and construction and movement to the south, it just overwhelmed West Prien Lake Road on that side of town past the park,” Eckard said.

Eckard would get calls from constituents who could see the park from their homes, but had to get in their cars to drive there to do their walking because it was dangerous to walk on the road and they didn’t want to walk in the ditch. So, the project included sidewalks.

Ideally, the road needed to be five lanes. As it turned out, property would need to be purchased for the road widening, and negotiating those acquisitions took time.

“When the government starts saying, ‘Hey, we need to buy your property,’ it gets real valuable real fast,” Eckard said with a chuckle.

The decision to purchase houses “two deep,” was made to provide an adequate buffer between a home and the five-lane highway.

Eckard reminded the Kiwanians that to the east of Sale Road is City Council John Ieyoub’s district, District D.     

“The area I represent along the West Prien Lake Road expansion is mostly residential,” Ieyoub said in an email to the American Press about the project. “I have to say that the residents have endured a lot during the construction; traffic detours, dirt and mud. When I speak with them they have been very understanding and patient, and they know it will be so much better for them, and the city as a whole, when the expansion is complete. Understandably, they are very ready for this project to be finished.”     

The number of traffic lights has yet to be determined for the project.

“When this project is finished, you could get on your bike and ride or walk on sidewalks from Weaver Park to Prien Lake Park,” Eckard said.

According to his bio, he believes the decisions we are making today will shape Lake Charles not only for our grandchildren “but for future generations.”