DOTD optimistic about 3241 completion |Funding may force construction in phases

Published 8:14 am Sunday, July 15, 2012

With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcing Route Q as the preferred route through St. Tammany Parish for the proposed Louisiana Highway 3241, the focus now shifts to the state of Department of Transportation and Development, which was the original applicant.

What’s the next step?

DOTD spokesperson Jodi Conachen said the department will simultaneously address a number of issues, including route engineering, wetlands mitigation and displacement concerns.

It’s important to note several officials have said Route Q has not been permitted but only is eligible to be permitted through the Corps. Now it’s up to the DOTD to satisfy those requirements.

“We are ready to move the project forward and will move as quickly as we can,” she said. “We are focused on our potential investment (in St. Tammany Parish).”

Conachen said pre-construction should be competed in no more than four years, with funding available through DOTD. However, funding Route Q, which carries an estimated price tag of $225 million, may be a challenge once it comes time to put shovels in the dirt.

“If we are permitted, we must find the funding,” she said. “We still have to find a lot of dollars.

“It’s what we call a mega project but has potential for timed funding.”

Perhaps that’s where the irony lies for Washington Parish residents. Highway 3241 was originally part of a transportation bill that included several other road projects approved by legislators in 1989. The bill was funded by a statewide four-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, so it qualified as timed funding.

During the years the other projects, with the exception of an abandoned bridge proposal on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans, were completed while Highway 3241 languished.

In 2006 the money needed to complete those projects was bonded out, Conachen said, with the four- cent tax in question now being used to pay off the bond. As a result, Highway 3241 is out of the loop and must scrounge for money in a state where budget cutbacks and governmental layoffs are annual occurrences.

Conachen raised the possibility of building the highway in phases, with one lane in both directions originally opening and as funds allow completing the four-lane project.

No timetable has been established for actual construction because Conachen said the availability of funds would determine how much of the work is to be completed at one time.

Despite the obstacles, she remains optimistic motorists will eventually have access from Bogalusa to Interstate 12 via a four-lane highway.

“There is a lot of support from elected officials and a lot of momentum,” she said. “As long as the momentum continues and it continues to have the support of elected officials I don’t see any reason why it can’t be built.”