BATON ROUGE, La. – The project to widen U.S. 61, or Airline Highway, between Cedarcrest and Florida Boulevard will get under way Monday, according to the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
Barber Brothers is contractor for the $11.6 million project to add a third lane on each side of the highway for 3.7 miles and a $1.7 million contract to expand the Intelligent Transportation System, or ITS, by installing backbone fiber-optic cable to communicate with cameras and electronic signage in the area. The work should take 260 calendar days to complete, or through the end of November, according to Phil Graves, project engineer.
The project will start with removal of vegetation near the shoulder, including nine live oak trees, according to Herb Piller, DOTD landscape architect. Piller said a total of 36 trees deemed “significant” according to DOTD’s tree policy are in the construction area, which means that the majority, or another 27 trees considered to be significant, will remain untouched.
In an effort to mitigate the tree loss, DOTD will enhance landscaping at the entrance of Broadmoor subdivision, he added.
Discussions were held in the late 1980s and the late 1990s about widening the roadway; this time, plans came to fruition with bids let in November and the work order signed last month.
Figures provided at a public hearing last year showed the existing traffic count at about 65,000 vehicles a day along that stretch of road, with projections of roughly 80,000 per day over the next 20 years, based on pre-Hurricane Katrina growth patterns, according to Peter Allain, traffic engineering division chief. Post-Katrina traffic volume on Airline Highway is up by more than 20 percent, Allain said.
Post-construction, with six lanes instead of the current four, the average travel time to get from Florida to Bluebonnet at peak hours is expected to be reduced by about 50 percent, from an average of 17 minutes to 9 minutes of travel time, Allain said. Going northbound, a 20 percent reduction in travel time is expected, he added.
The project also includes upgrading the signals along the stretch using video detectors rather than loop detectors in the pavement; the signals will be retimed to create a shorter cycle for all phases, which should benefit traffic on intersecting side streets as well. Dual left-turn lanes will be added and extended on Airline Highway at Goodwood, Old Hammond Highway and Coursey.
Piller said the decision to remove the nine live oak trees was made after considerable deliberation. Most of the nine to be removed are in the commercial area on both the north- and southbound sides, with two closer to the residential area. Many of them already had stressed roots because of nearby concrete; the others were directly in the path of the new lanes (which will be where the current shoulders are) or the new shoulders of the road, he added.
“While we are deeply saddened at the loss of the trees and the beauty that they provide, the increased traffic demands require their removal in locations where the expansion couldn’t accommodate their healthy survival,” Piller said.