Construction is expected to start in late spring on a $50.18 million project to widen an important corridor for industrial and commuter traffic in Ascension and St. James parishes, state highway officials said.
Ascension is also getting a long-sought roundabout that will also help handle traffic from the parish’s future fifth high school in Prairieville. The nearly $80 million Prairieville High is expected to open in the fall of 2024.
Earlier this week, the state Department of Transportation and Development announced the results from a bid opening to build the Parker Road roundabout and widen La. 70 from two to four lanes between La. 22 in Sorrento to the Sunshine Bridge in St. James Parish.
La. 70 links Interstate 10 traffic with the Sunshine Bridge and plants along the Mississippi River and runs past the northern edge of Shell Oil’s refinery in Convent.
Gilchrist Construction Co. of Alexandria is the apparent low bidder on the project with an offer $3 million under the construction estimate, DOTD officials said.
Hendrick Construction Inc. of Baton Rouge was also the low bidder to build the roundabout at Parker Road and Ascension Parish Road 929 in Prairieville. The bid was $2.18 million, nearly $591,000 over the construction estimate, according to DOTD results.
Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment said the La. 70 project would improve traffic, especially during peak work hours.
“We are also looking forward to the new roundabout at (PR) 929 and Parker Road. This type of forward thinking and collaboration prior to the opening of the new high school is exactly what we need, as we know this will bring additional traffic to this area,” Cointment said in a statement Thursday.
Since the late 2000s, Ascension government had proposed that roundabout because of safety concerns, but a major pipeline conflict at the intersection drove up the cost of the project and delayed it for years.
The roundabout is being built through Ascension government’s Move Ascension program but had to be bid through DOTD because the project used federal dollars, said Jeff Burst, a parish highway consultant with HNTB.
Burst told parish officials earlier this week that the roundabout will tie into other traffic improvements in the area around the new high school, including another roundabout at La. 44 and Parker in the early stages, road overlay on PR 929, improvements on Parker and other roundabouts planned in the area along PR 929 and La. 930.
“So now you will have an entire new grid of improved transportation projects (that) we’re shooting for in advance of the fall of 2024 when the new high school is built,” Burst told a Parish Council panel Tuesday.
Some of that work is being done in cooperation with the parish school system, Burst said.
The Parker/929 roundabout will use $1 million in federal safety dollars and nearly $1.18 million that is a combination of federal dollars from the Capital Region Planning Commission and a match from parish government, state highway officials said.
On the La. 70 project, state highway officials and Shell Oil had been discussing widening the highway as the oil major had considered significant expansions on the grounds near its now shuttered Convent oil refinery.
When the Convent refinery was open and before other improvements were made in the area, two-lane La. 70 had suffered routine backups on workday afternoons, with St. James sheriff’s deputies conducting regular traffic control at Shell’s exit as workers ended their shifts.
Rodney Mallett, DOTD spokesman, said the agency continued with the La. 70 expansion after Shell announced in late 2020 that it would close the refinery. DOTD’s talks with Shell on the highway expansion had previously ceased earlier that year.
The expansion will link up with other corridor improvements already built to tie into the future four-lane highway.
In mid-2020, the state agency finished building a two-lane roundabout at La. 22 and La. 70 and an area of restricted left turns on the La. 22 from just past I-10 to the roundabout.
The changes were aimed at speeding up traffic to and from the river along the section of La. 70 now to be widened and cutting down on pre-dawn backups from plant commuter traffic at the I-10 eastbound off-ramp in Sorrento, officials said at the time.
Mallett said the La. 70 construction will use federal highway dollars and state general fund money as the required match.
Though an apparent low bidder has been identified for the projects, DOTD officials noted projects aren’t awarded and contracts aren’t signed for about 30 days.