The fast track in and out of Minden via La. Hwy. 531 has prompted officials and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to study alternatives benefitting traffic flow.
In a public meeting Thursday, DOTD personnel presented three project descriptions, any of which would improve the flow between Industrial Drive to Interstate 20 and beyond.
DOTD project manager Nicholas Olivier said he feels the best plan is Alternate 2, which would include three traffic circles (roundabouts) – one at the intersection of Hwy. 531 and Industrial Drive, a second at the entrance/ exit ramps to Interstate 20 north of the I-20 bridge and a third at the entrance/exit ramps south of the overpass.
At this point, he is unsure of the cost; however, it will be funded by DOTD.
"We won't decide right away," Olivier said. "We will take comments from this meeting and put together a draft. Then, we will have a better idea about the cost."
Another hearing will be held to determine which alternate will be chosen.
"Then, we will release a final document that has the estimates for the chosen alternate," he said. "This is called an environmental assessment, and we have a team that goes through the issues – traffic counts, costs – they go through all of it and then make a determination."
But Olivier said public comments would still make a big impact on DOTD's decision. He hopes public hearings will begin in the next three to four months.
Project engineer Ananda Herath said if chosen, Alternate II would take two years to complete.
"It will take from 2014 to 2016," Herath said. "We will do it all at one time."
Herath said all plans call for widening the I-20 overpass.
"We would replace the two-lane overpass with a five-lane overpass that is actually striped as four lanes."
None of the roadways – 531 nor Industrial Drive – will ever be completely closed during the project, he said.
Robin and Andy Fish own Minden Home Care on the I-20 service road/Industrial Drive. It offers home care equipment for individuals, who may be physically challenged.
Their concern revolves around the time it will take to complete the project.
"It's tough getting in and out of that red light (intersection at Hwy. 531 and Industrial Drive)," Andy Fish said. "It will be great when it's finished, but while it's being built, it will be more difficult for our 'patients' to get into our business."
North of the overpass on 531, will be widened to four lanes to Industrial Drive. After that it will be narrowed to three lanes – two through-lanes and a center two-way turn lane.
Bruce Hock has lived and worked on Hwy. 531 since his family moved there in 1952.
"I think it's an excellent project that needs to be put into place," said Hock, who said he has seen the number of cars grow from six cars to close to 12,000 cars passing his house every day.
"I believe the three multi-lane roundabouts will be safer than the current set-up," he said. "This is progress. It's what we've got to do."
Hock feels like with the completion of the new campus for Northwest Louisiana Technical College on the service road, the traffic will increase substantially.
"We've got several businesses up and down through there, and it's going to be a tremendous help," Hock said. "I'm glad to see it. When I saw the model, I thought 'this is great.'"
South of the overpass, two frontage roads on each side of Hwy. 531 will be installed to allow access to the businesses near 531 and the I-20 eastbound ramp interchange.
Kary Bryce, of Bryce Transport and Trucking, has just purchased and cleared 30 acres there to build a trucking company yard.
His company, Preferred Materials, will move from Hwy. 80 to the area south of the overpass.
"While they're building it, (roundabouts and overpass) we'll be shut down," Bryce said, pointing to the area where frontage roads will be built. "We won't have access to get in and out. We were going to build a shop out there, and the alternate they choose will affect how we do it."
But despite that, Bryce feels the project is necessary and, in the end, will be good.
DOTD is offering other alternatives to the roundabouts.
Alternate 1 is a similar proposal to Alternate 2 with all the widening of roadways but with no roundabouts. The intersection at Hwy. 531 and Industrial Drive would remain signal controlled.
Alternate 1A proposes the same improvements but with one roundabout installed in place of the traffic signal at Hwy. 531 and Industrial Drive.
There is an Alternate 3. It states that no work would be done to the current bridge or the project corridor.