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Louisiana DOTD Slims Government Street in East Baton Rouge Parish for Better Pedestrian Access

by: Debra Wood
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (La DOTD) is changing the configuration of Government Street in East Baton Rouge Parish to reduce the number of lanes, called a “road diet,” to improve safety and traffic flow.

“The major reason is to make the road more pedestrian friendly in this area, trying to promote businesses,” says Desmond Sam, Project Engineer for La DOTD. “There will be less traffic, to get you from downtown to our residential neighborhoods.”

The original configuration had two lanes in each direction. After completion of this $15 million project, the 4.2-mile stretch of road will have one lane in each direction, a center left-turn lane and bicycle lanes in each direction. Sam indicated more local businesses are opening up in anticipation of the benefits of the road diet. The area is also used for food and art festivals. “We’re trying to make it safer for families to walk around,” Sam says.

The scope of work includes rehabilitating the existing road; adding a raised median; constructing a roundabout at Government Street and Lobdell Avenue and Independence Park Boulevard; enhancing the turning geometry at the Jefferson Highway intersection; landscaping, replacing driveways, and adding ADA-accessible ramps at intersections; and other sidewalk improvements. Sam explains the department decided on a roundabout, because of traffic studies and that the roads came together at an awkward angle.

The Capital Region Planning Commission and the City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge, which has a consolidated government, initiated the project. It was first outlined in a Government Street Master Action Plan in 2002. The scope of work was given to La DOTD in the Road Transfer agreement among the city, the parish, and the state department.

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Currently, the portion of Government Street between East Boulevard and Jefferson Highway is owned by the state, but after final acceptance of the construction work, ownership and maintenance will be transferred to the city-parish, which already owns the portion between Jefferson Highway and Lobdell Ave.

Funding included federal safety funds, state dollars, city-parish road transfer credits and money through the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two nearby parallel roads will allow through traffic to avoid Government Street. During construction, traffic has been maintained on Government Street, with traffic down to one lane in each direction. “We want traffic to get used to it,” Sam says.

Construction in Multiple Types of Areas
Barber Brothers Contracting Co. of Baton Rouge received the contract and began work in January 2018. The company was founded in 1928 and has grown as a heavy civil and highway firm, while maintaining family leadership and a family atmosphere. It currently operates three asphalt plants in the state.

The project passes through three distinct communities: a downtown business district, an interstate area, and a residential area. In some sections, with many restaurants and businesses, work could only take place on nights and weekends. COVID-19 stay-at-home orders enabled construction to continue with less traffic.

“The contract allows construction to go on in different types of areas at different times,” Sam said. “It’s not all one rule for each section.”

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Although much of the construction activity remains similar across the different sections, how Barber Brothers completed them changed. Commercial driveway replacements occurred at night.

“We tried to not impact the residential areas the same way as the commercial side,” says Leanne Jones, Project Manager with Barber Brothers. For instance, when completing the driveways, the company skipped every other driveway to ensure people had access to their property.

“We would remove a driveway and put a new one back that night,” Jones says.

Barber Brothers has kept a low profile. Crews work in half-mile sections for two to four weeks and then move to another section.

“We have not interfered with traffic significantly,” Jones says. “People are not complaining while work is being done.”

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At the roundabout, Barber Brothers had to relocate drainage structures and work with utilities to move lines and pipes. Crews built up one corner and have been installing curbs and gutters. Next up, they will build up the roundabout island in phases.

“There were a lot of scheduling nightmares, due to utility conflicts found during different phases of the roundabout construction,” Jones says. “There’s a lot of leveling and grading, because the roundabout sits higher than the existing roadway and all must be constructed under traffic.”

The project remains within the existing right-of-way. Barber Brothers began by rehabilitating the road and repairing potholes. The company worked early in the morning and later into the evening to deal with summer heat.

Barber Brothers has paved with asphalt. In one section of the road, crews installed a GlasPave Paving Mat, a geosynthetic, nonwoven polyester matrix to act as an asphalt binder. Once the company had milled off the old pavement, the concrete base ranged from three to five inches and was not substantial. Crews then paved with regular asphalt on top of the GlasPave.

“The GlasPave adheres to the roadway to help with the reduction of cracks,” Jones says.

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In a different section, Barber Brothers used FiberCrete for partial-depth patching. This product is a hot applied polymer modified resin. In these areas, crews used a warm asphalt mix, which will not melt the patch. “Overall, the project is running smoothly,” Jones says.

Road Diets
The Federal Highway Administration reports that road diets improve safety, mobility, and access for all road users and calls them “complete streets,” able to accommodate many modes of transportation. Crashes on a road diet street can decrease from 19 percent to 47 percent, because they eliminate the risk of left turning vehicles being hit from behind from through traffic. They also are safer for bicycles and pedestrians, because there are fewer lanes to cross.

One of the first road diets was completed in Billings, Montana, in 1979. They gained popularity in the 1990s. However, not everyone appreciates a road diet.

Sam acknowledges that some people do not agree with reducing the number of lanes, while others, especially bicyclists, like the idea. The project is expected to be complete in late 2020. Landscaping might need to wait until spring of 2021.

“I’m excited about the bike lanes,” Sam says. “I’d love to see more pedestrian and bicycle facilities in this parish and am happy to be on a project moving in that direction.”

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