By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON – One major highway improvement is approaching completion of a two-year project that will dramatically improve traffic for Covington motorists, all at a time when talk is increasing about a regional highway project that is of great interest to thousands in the area.
Covington Mayor Mike Cooper reported that the Hwy. 21 (Tyler Street) widening project underway by the Louisiana Department of Transportation (DOTD) is right on schedule to be finished this summer. With work continuing despite a lot of rain this summer, Cooper said they are currently hoping to see the roadway completely opened by the end of August. The work included construction of a new bridge over the Tchefuncta River and had a total cost of nearly $17 million.
Meanwhile, a recent DOTD public hearing unveiled plans for the public to look over a much-needed widening to six lanes of Interstate 12 on the west side of the parish. That project will be addressed in two phases, with the total work going from the Hwy. 21 exit on the west side of Covington all the way to Hwy. 59, the exit that leads into Mandeville and Abita Springs.
“The Hwy. 21 project only has minor work—crossover turn lanes, striping and median work,” Cooper said.
“We’re really anxious to see it open, especially since it will be close to school opening. It’s going to really help our traffic situation a lot.”
As soon as the Hwy. 21 road is finished Cooper said he will resume pressing for another project that will improve traffic from 11th Avenue to 21st Avenue. The current four-laning ends near St. Tammany Hospital, with traffic going back to two-lanes from there to 21st Avenue. Cooper said that DOTD is looking at ways to add turning lanes from there to 21st Avenue.
“We can’t four-lane the road from there or a lot of major businesses would be in trouble,” he said. “But we can do things with striping, and turn lanes that will improve traffic.”
The traffic issues in many areas on the west side of the parish are the main problems that Cooper and Mandeville Donald Villere hear about since neither city has much in the way of controversy on any other issues.
However, improving the traffic for the growing areas throughout St. Tammany Parish continue to be among the top priorities for both mayors.
The Interstate 12 situation is one that Cooper said has been moved to a “high priority” status with the state, meaning the funding should be there as quickly as plans are finished.
Slidell recently saw six-laning of Interstate 12 complete from Interstate 59 to Airport Road and Cooper said it is clear that DOTD understands the vital nature of that roadway in the parish.
“You can see them getting one stretch at a time up to six lanes,” he said. “They finished the stretch in Slidell and they also did it coming out of Baton Rouge to Denham Springs. This is a heavily travelled highway, but especially here in St. Tammany Parish we need the six lanes. Traffic backs up at several areas trying to get on or off during commute times,” he said.
The Regional Planning Commission is also supporting the work by DOTD for the interstate project in western St. Tammany and even though the state is years behind with funding for highway projects around Louisiana, Cooper said there are federal funds that have been allocated already to the I-12 work near Mandeville and Covington.
“DOTD showed off the conceptual plans at the recent public hearing and although it’s hard to put an exact timetable on when this will all happen we are hopeful to see Phase I from Hwy. 21 to Hwy. 190, followed by the Hwy. 190 to Hwy. 59 stretch, put out for bids in 2019 or not soon after,” he explained.