Louisiana DOTD Widens Highway 42 Near Fast-Growing Ascension Parish
The Rise of Ascension Parish: Louisiana DOTD Widens Highway 42 to Accommodate Significant Growth Near Baton Rouge
The first rule in infrastructure is safety is the primary concern. Wide beautiful uncongested roads and bridges are a wonderful convenience. However, for the infrastructure to make a difference, commuters, pedestrians, and residents must feel confident regarding safe passage. The widening of Highway 42 in Louisiana accomplishes multiple goals and adding safety is tops on the list.
Ascension Parish is located about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge. The parish is experiencing significant population growth. While a number of areas outside of Baton Rouge are experiencing growth, Ascension is one of the fastest growing parishes in the state. “People are moving to the area for a number of reasons,” said Rodney Mallet, Communication Director for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). Mallet lists a few reasons such as suburban life, good value, access to the interstate, and a good school system.
The project will widen LA Highway 42 from two to four lanes between U.S. 61 (Airline Highway) and Louisiana 44 (North Burnside Avenue). In addition to Ascension Parish, other areas – East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Tangipahoa parishes – will also benefit from the 3.7-mile highway widening. The widening will provide access to U.S. 61, I-10 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and I-12 between Baton Rouge and Slidell.
The roadway improvements are also vital to the area because of the access they will provide to multiple area airports. These include one commercial airport – Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport – and two general aviation airports – the Louisiana Regional Airport in Gonzales and the Hammond Municipal Airport in Hammond.
The first phase of the two phase LA Highway 42 widening project began in March of 2014 and was completed in 2016, earlier than the initial estimate of early 2017. The $8.7 million phase one involved clearing land and installing a new upgraded sewage system that can handle and treat more wastewater. This was needed due to the increase in population. The early completion came despite challenges with the utility relocations that were due to, “a number of unmarked utilities we found while we were out there,” said Mallet.
Taking care of the sewage system first was done for a reason. “We did it in this order once before and found it worked well,” said Mallet. Doing it in two phases allows DOTD to get the road work done quicker and has enabled the crew to minimize lane closures during phase two, and that certainly pleases commuters.
Phase two of the project, which began in 2017, is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2020. This is slightly later than the original expected completion date of spring 2020. Monsoon like storms dumping record amounts of rain hit the area in the summer of 2016 sending thousands into shelters and caused major flooding. The resulting cleanup of the storm caused phase two to get off to a slow start.
Mallet believes that installing the sewage system first minimized damage from the monsoon and enabled phase two to suffer just minor delays. Because the majority of the right of way work was completed during phase one, the delay was only a matter of months. “This has enabled us to move more quickly with the road construction,” says Mallet.
Beyond widening 3.7 miles of LA Highway 42, the $27.5 million phase two of the project includes installation of a 6-foot sidewalk that will be constructed on the north side of the roadway. A 10-foot bicycle/pedestrian shared-use path will border the south side of the roadway. Mallet says these additions will create a road that is, “a community oriented highway.” The features will help make the area more walkable, and residents are excited to make use of the upgrades.
Another aspect of phase two is installing an 18-foot-wide raised grass median between the east and westbound roadways, as well as multiple J-turns with the bulb out. They are being designed this way to help larger vehicles with making U-turns and prevent crossovers. J-turns reduce the number of conflict points, which leads to less injuries and fatalities. This entire aspect of the construction is being done for safety purposes. “Safety is always a concern and when we can add such features to projects, we are going to take advantage of it,” says Mallet.
Safety is of particular concern in Ascension Parish. Many area residents have been impacted and lives have been lost due to wrecks caused on LA Highway 42. One woman whose 18-year-old daughter was tragically killed on the roadway is thrilled to see the safety measures being taken. She feels it means her daughter’s life was not taken in vain.
LA Highway 42 is already a highly trafficked road as 24,000 commuters use it daily. With the growth in the area, that number is expected to grow to near 40,000 by 2034. “The large volume of traffic presents challenges to the construction crew,” says Mallet. With the growth in the area and increased traffic, it’s no surprise that residents are looking forward to having the extra lane in each direction and seeing their commutes shortened due to an easing of congestion.
The widening of LA Highway 42 will allow residents of Ascension Parish to further enjoy their booming area. It will make the commutes to the capitol and airports quicker. Most importantly, the project will enable residents and commuters to feel an increased sense of safety as they travel the busy area.