Nelson Road extention project is ‘game-changer’

The state Department of Transportation and Development has begun construction on the Nelson Road extension and Contraband Bayou bridge projects.

The bridge has been called a “game-changer” by state representatives and senators who have lobbied for money for the project for years, as well as by investors, developers and landowners. The plan is for a more direct — and less congested — route from downtown Lake Charles to south Lake Charles or vice versa.  The one-mile DOTD project was announced in February and includes an access road to the Port of Lake Charles, a major economic driver for Southwest Louisiana.

John Guidroz, DOTD public information officer, noted high temperatures haven’t slowed the department’s construction, but when temperatures are high — and they have been — concrete is poured at night to avoid curing too rapidly.

“The Nelson Road Extension Project will ease traffic congestion at one of our busiest intersections,” said Mayor Nic Hunter. “A project of this size does not happen overnight, and it does not happen without partnerships.”

Hunter thanked Gov. John Bel Edwards and the local delegation who fought hard to make the project a reality.

“We are thankful for the Port of Lake Charles’ commitment to helping us make the Sallier Street corridor safer for residents and pedestrians,” he said.

The port’s rail relocation project is paving the way for the city to reconstruct Sallier Street as well as the intersection of Lake and Sallier streets.

“Expected to get underway in the first quarter of 2024, this project will result in a three-lane road with a shared-use path, making the corridor safer for everyone to travel, whether it’s by car, on foot or by bicycle,” Hunter said.

It also opens a new corridor for development opportunities, some of which are already underway at Contraband Pointe.

The mixed-unit development that encompasses 149 acres bordered by W. Prien Lake Road, Contraband Bayou, and L’Auberge Boulevard (formerly Nelson Road) was recognized by the city of Lake Charles in January 2017 as Contraband Pointe.

The latest available development news for the area is from Mary Kay Hopkins, a local commercial and residential real estate agent-broker, who said a Letter of Intent has been signed on the largest Contraband Pointe parcel available. She can’t say whether the 15-acre tract will create as much buzz as the new Hobby Lobby in Contraband Pointe did when it was announced, but she did promise an update.

The landscape along West Prien Lake Road and Nelson Road inside the perimeter has changed dramatically in a relatively short period, about 10 years. Yes, more progress would have been possible without the weather events, without COVID, but progress is progress.

What you see in the West Prien Lake, casinos and Nelson Road (inside the perimeter) area has been a long time in the making, according to state Rep. Phillip Tarver, District 36.

“Funding takes a long time to come together,” Tarver said. “Previous representatives and Sen. (Mark) Abraham worked very hard to make this come to pass. The beauty of it is, this bridge will figuratively and literally connect south Lake Charles with downtown, good for economic development.”

Tarver also noted the new route will benefit the community not just economically, but it will be of benefit should a hurricane evacuation become necessary.

The Port of Lake Charles will be able to better interface with trains and trucks. Before construction equipment was moved into the area near the Port of Lake Charles building and dozers started stripping the first layer to open access for workers and equipment, work had begun to move the railroad tracks north of West Sallier.

“I think the boon from growth and infrastructure will be surprising to people,” Tarver said.

Marcel Contraband Pointe Development is well underway. The 12-acre site will integrate creative lifestyle amenities and a fresh take on the community retail experience, according to Vernon Veldekens, Marcel Development founder. It includes five restaurants and retail sites, as well as one of the only waterside restaurants in lake Charles, and a dedicated building space to house an APEX Executive Suites, a flexible community co-working facility.

The Nelson Road extension will also benefit the Lake Charles area as it relates to conferences and visitors, according to Taylor Beard Stanley, vice president of sales for Visit Lake Charles.

“Enhancing connectivity from the casino area into downtown Lake Charles will expand our opportunities to host large-scale meetings and events,” Stanley said. “By decreasing drive time between Golden Nugget, L’Auberge, and the 12 additional hotels in that area to the Lake Charles Event Center, downtown Lake Charles will provide meeting planners and attendees a variety of options to choose from for lodging, dining, and activities. Ultimately, the more movement a visitor has throughout our city, the more money they are spending in our community, which translates to a larger economic impact.”

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