From Dec. 5 to Dec. 7 there will be five public forums, one in each parish expected to be affected by the loop: East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension and Iberville. ABMB is one of the lead firms on the BR loop project.
The Baton Rouge Loop is moving forward, and soon area residents will be invited to offer their input about the proposed 85-mile express highway circling the capital area.
Progress by the Capital Area Expressway Authority, which is the legal entity set up to pursue the loop, continues desspite the widespread loss of support for the $4.5 billion project among outlying parish leaders.
From Dec. 5 to Dec. 7 there will be five public forums, one in each parish expected to be affected by the loop: East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension and Iberville.
The public hearings are one of the final requirements of the project’s environmental impact statement, which is a cumbersome, multi-year application process submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.
Approval from the FHA means the expressway authority will receive a “Record of Decision,” which is essentially a legal permit, or “green light to move forward with the project,” said Mike Bruce, managing principal of ABMB Engineers Inc., one of the lead firms on the loop.
Once the loop receives an OK from the federal government, private investors are more likely to get involved in the project, backers have said. The Record of Decision also means there could be federal dollars allocated toward the project.
Comments from the public made during the forums will be recorded in the impact statement submitted to the FHA and could influence the project’s approval, Bruce said.
“The federal government will weigh these comments along with all the other factors,” Bruce said. “Historically, there have been projects that have been stopped because of overwhelming public disapproval.”
The environmental impact study also includes information about social, economic and transportation patterns in the region which the FHA will consider, Bruce said.
After the public hearings, Bruce said, the impact statement will be submitted to the FHA within about 90 days. But he didn’t know how long the approval process would take.
Despite the project just continuing to trudge along, some parish presidents are calling the loop a lost cause.
In April 2010, three of the five parish presidents serving on the expressway authority’s board of directors resigned over possible route alignments, opposition from residents and questions about economic feasibility.
“It’s just politics and dreaming at this point,” said Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso. “Show me the money and all the people that are happy about this going through. Make a believer out of me.”
Tommy Martinez, Ascension Parish president, said he doesn’t believe the southern part of the loop is feasible.
“The loop concept is not a bad concept,” Martinez said. “My objection is not that we don’t need a project to alleviate traffic. My objection is that I don’t know if there will ever be money to dothis project.”
East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, who chairs the expressway authority, and West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Peewee” Berthelot, the only other remaining parish president on the board, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Bruce said the loss of support from the parish presidents would also be documented in the impact study.
The loop is also running out of funding needed to get the project off the ground.
In 2009, the state Legislature allocated about $4.5 million toward the planning and engineering work for the loop.
As of September, $3.8 million had been expended.
Bruce said the remaining funds will last long enough to submit the impact study.
In July 2010, Gov. Bobby Jindal used a line-item veto to reject $5 million Baton Rouge legislators inserted into a spending bill to move the loop project along.
Bruce said that money would have been used to begin searching for private partners, which the expressway authority ultimately expects would fund the project.
People who cannot attend the public hearings can contribute feedback by going to http:www.BRLoop.com and printing out the form and mailing it in before Jan. 9.