West Bank Connector project not dead

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

VACHERIE – St. James Councilman James Brazan said that even though the council rejected SJB Group LLC’s proposal for a Westbank Connector at the March 20 meeting, they are not opposed to the idea itself but are concerned about the cost.
“I’m not really opposed to it. Actually, I would’ve supported it if the money would be used strictly for a west bank expressway. I just don’t know the feasibility of adding another bridge when you already have two bridges in St. James Parish that are underutilized. There’s just not enough traffic for them,” he said.
Brazan said the issue of the Westbank Connector has been around since at least 1996, when he became a councilman.
Brazan said that from that time, all of the communities along the west bank have expressed interest in the project, but he doesn’t know whether the west bank alone has enough clout to cover the cost, since the Department of Transportation and Development will not make a move until there is money to finance it.
According to Wilfred Barry, president of Baton Rouge-based SJB Group, the potential West Bank Connector project would include a new route from Interstate 10 west of Port Allen to Louisiana Highway 1 south of Plaquemine, upgrades of existing Highway 1 south of Plaquemine extending to west of Donaldsonville and Louisiana Highway 70 from Louisiana Highway 3127 to Louisiana Highway 3125, a new route from Highway 3125 to I-10, a new Mississippi River Bridge, connectors for Highway 1 and Louisiana Highway 30 to the Mississippi River bridge, and upgrades to Highway 70 and Highway 3127 from St. John the Baptist Parish to St. Charles Parish.
The proposed project came with a $1.6 billion price tag. Brazan questioned whether that type of revenue could be raised from tolls alone.
“We don’t mind supporting it, but the cost of a bridge…I don’t know if we can ever raise that kind of money through tolls,” he said.
During the March 9 council meeting, Sen. Troy Brown paid a visit to discuss the possible revival of tolls on the Sunshine Bridge. Brazan said that the council doesn’t have enough information to give that proposal a yea or nay just yet, but that it may be something to consider down the road.