I-10 Widening Adds Capacity on Heavily-Traveled Louisiana Freight Route
Long-Awaited Expansion: I-10 Widening Improves Infrastructure in Rapidly Growing Area Near Baton Rouge
What’s one issue that all politicians and the public agree on? One of the very few answers to that question is the need to upgrade infrastructure. Despite the widespread agreement, there’s little consensus about how to pay for the improvements. When funds come available, it benefits the recipient to grab it and get the project done despite any challenges that may be in the way. This scenario describes the I-10 widening from Highland Road to LA 73 in Louisiana.
The area where the project is taking place is between Baton Rouge and northern Ascension Parish. This suburban area is experiencing significant growth. This portion of I-10 also is part of the main route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, one of the busiest surface freight routes in Louisiana.
“It’s a highly congested area and the need for expansion has existed for years,” says Rodney Mallet, Communications Director for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD). “When DOTD received more than $40 million in congressionally authorized repurposed earmarks, this project was chosen to fit into the timeframe to utilize those funds.”
In order to meet the time requirements, DOTD decide to construct the project via the design-build method, which typically allows construction to be completed quicker without impacting cost. As the name implies, construction is being done while various parts of the design are still being decided. It requires a construction contractor and engineer-designer to join forces and work concurrently on design and construction plans.
While one might expect such a system to be bumpy, this has not been the case for the I-10 widening. “This has been as smooth as any project we have had in a long time,” says Mallet. He credits the space along the area, which meant little need to acquire right of way, along with the design-build method as the key reasons for the smooth sailing on the project.
The construction budget for the project is $73 million. Mallet expects the project to come in on budget and says, “The accelerated time schedule has not impacted costs.” He adds the costs for the project would have been the same even if not been construction as design-build.
Widening and Rehabilitation
The project includes the widening of I-10 over a 6.5-mile stretch. Upon completion, the highway will go from four lanes to six lanes. The heavily traveled interstate (a 2016 traffic count noted 95,000 vehicles a day, a 25 percent increase since 2013) is very congested. Also, other parts of I-10 are already six lanes and will allow the width to continue straight through.
Not only is the road being widened, but the existing roadway will also be rehabilitated. ”We’ve been doing lots of maintenance in the area prior to the project, however we will be doing major rehabilitating including patching of failed concrete pavement areas,” says Mallet.
Bridge work is also being completed and multiple bridges are being impacted. Two bridges or overpasses are being removed and being replaced by one larger bridge. The new bridge will have three 12-foot travel lanes in each direction, 10-foot outside shoulders, and 19-foot inside shoulders, separated by a 2-foot-wide, 54-inch-tall concrete barrier. “The new bridge will be wider, safer, and better for those who use it every day,” says Mallett.
It’s being constructed in three stages in order to allow traffic to be uninterrupted during construction. Upon completion, the new bridge will also allow DOTD to the raise the bluff, which will help with tall loads. Mallett notes that in the past trucks had been hit by over height and had to ultimately reroute so they could go. The new height of 16 feet, 8 inches is almost 1-foot higher than the old height of 15 feet, 10 inches.
Two bridges on I-10 within the construction site are being widened. The new bridges will have three, 12-foot travel lanes in each direction, 10-foot outside shoulders and 14-foot inside shoulders. The bridges were the same width as the existing four-lane roadway and are being widened to accommodate the additional lane in each direction
Combating Unpredictable Weather
When the project began in February 2018, it had a construction schedule of two years. The area experienced a very cold winter of 2018-19 and wet spring of 2019. This type of weather is atypical for the area and caused the project to fall behind by two months.
Mallet is hopeful that the project can ultimately finish on time or at least very close to it. “If the fall season is dry like it normally is, we think we can make up the time since this type of weather is excellent for constructing the roadway base and 12-inch-thick concrete pavement,” says Mallet. Crews have also been putting in extra hours during the week and working weekend hours in an effort to make up for the lost time.
Work on the project is being done in two segments. Segment one is constructing the entire median with concrete pavement and 54-inch concrete median barrier for approximately one half of the project. Segment two is constructing an additional 12-foot-wide travel lane with a 12-foot-wide shoulder. The contractor is doing the project in two segments to accommodate the new overpass being constructed in three stages and providing for two lanes of traffic in each direction.
With the population in and around Baton Rouge continuing to grow, traffic is sure to increase as well. DOTD recognizes the need to expand overburdened roadways, including I-10. The I-10 widening from Highland Road to LA 73 means more of the well-traveled route will be six lanes and minimize back-ups. It’s a result that’s sure to please everyone.