VINTON — Gov. John Bel Edwards joined state transportation officials and legislators Tuesday to break ground on a $152 million project that will widen a nearly 11-mile stretch of Interstate 10 from four lanes to six.
Construction will start at the Louisiana-Texas border to just east of La. 108. Shawn Wilson, state Department of Transportation and Development secretary, said the work will include widening and replacing 10 bridges, and replacing the weigh station along I-10 eastbound. Once the project is finished, it will connect drivers with three lanes to Interstate 210 on the west side of the Calcasieu River bridge.
“It’s going to be safer, faster and smoother than it is today,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the work will be done over three segments to reduce traffic impacts. Work has already begun on the first segment from the state line to La. 109. The project should be done by 2025, he said.
Edwards and Wilson said the project will also benefit freight transportation along the interstate.
State Sen. Mike Reese, R-Leesville, said investing in infrastructure is crucial for Southwest Louisiana to realize opportunities for economic growth.
Rep. Ryan Bourriaque, R-Abbeville, represents the area where the work is taking place. He mentioned how certain stretches of I-10 flooded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, causing drivers to be rerouted along La. 82. Bourriaque thanked federal and state officials for acknowledging the importance of the Southwest Louisiana region.
“It’s really encouraging to see positive things happen,” he said.
Wilson said officials have also reviewed the number of people who evacuated ahead of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. Widening this section of I-10 will make evacuation quicker, he said.
Johnson Brothers Corporation is the contractor for the project, Wilson said.
Edwards met later in the day with local officials to discuss plans and a timeline for a new I-10/Calcasieu River bridge.
“When you look at the bridge itself and the expanse, you’re talking about a project that’s close to $1 billion,” he said. “It’s an expensive project, but we understand the need for a newer, wider bridge that doesn’t have to get as high as the current bridge.”
Since 2016, Edwards said $367 million has been allocated for more than 65 transportation projects in Calcasieu Parish, stretching over more than 203 miles. He said $3.6 billion has been invested in transportation infrastructure statewide during that time, benefitting roughly 5,000 miles of state roadways.
Edwards urged residents to keep following the steps recommended by health officials to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The 3,492 new cases recorded Nov. 13 was the largest in Louisiana since the outbreak began, he said. The spike in new cases isn’t because of more tests being administered, but rather higher rates of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, he said.
Louisiana saw 818 people hospitalized with COVID-19 Monday, a net gain of 198 over five days, Edwards said. Putting hospitals at capacity could also impact those who suffer heart attacks, strokes, car accidents or other medical emergencies.
“That is a trajectory that is quite frankly unsustainable,” he said of the hospitalizations.
Despite encouraging initial reports of COVID-19 vaccines being highly effective, the governor said getting them administered to people is going to take months. He encouraged residents to wear face coverings in public, maintain a 6-foot distance from others and wash their hands frequently.
“We know it works, we just have to do it,” Edwards said.
So far, more than 6,100 Louisiana residents have died as a result of COVID-19, Edwards said.
Tuesday’s news conference was held outdoors for safety. Edwards said residents should not plan for typical Thanksgiving or Christmas gatherings. He said those events can be risky, especially for the elderly and other high-risk individuals.
“(The holidays) shouldn’t look like they did last year,” Edwards said.
Wilson said a DOTD employee died from complications related to COVID-19 on Monday, the third in the department since the outbreak began.
Edwards said the state continues to work with federal officials to achieve the 90 percent federal, 10 percent state/local cost share related to recovery from Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
He said housing remains the biggest need in the area, with a few thousand residents still displaced in non-congregate shelters and hotels since Hurricane Laura. Edwards said he met with FEMA officials Monday to discuss housing options and expediting the process to get temporary housing in the area.
“We’re working extremely hard to get these people back home,” he said.