New Orleans-- If Louisiana builds a new four-lane highway on the North Shore, it will have to take a different path than the state's preferred route.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers picked a potential winner among four alternatives for the I-12 to Bush highway, a project that has been decades in the planning.
The Corps says the route, known as Alternative Q, would have the least environmental impact.
The highway would run nearly 20 miles from the I-12 north of Lacombe, veering off to the northeast and following the old Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks to Bush.
Federal law requires the Corps to choose the alternative posing the least environmental impact.
A Corps Environmental Impact Statement released in March found the state's choice would adversely affect 358 acres of wetlands compared to 305 acres in the Corps alignment. To read the EIS, click here.
"If we issue a permit, that permit will have to be for Q," said Ricky Boyett, a Corps spokesman.
"Based on a thorough review of all available information, we have determined that Alternative Q is the least environmentally damaging practical alternative," said Col. Ed Fleming, Commander of the New Orleans District. "This alternative will be the selected route if a permit is issued."
The decision represents a slight setback for the state, which had preferred a footprint farther to the west in St. Tammany Parish.
"DOTD is disappointed that our preferred alignment... was not selected," according to a email statement from spokesperson B.R. "Bambi" Hall.
However Hall said "after two decades of delay we are ready to move forward."
The surviving route would cut through St. Tammany Parish government facilities north of I-12.
The Corps and DOTD have already begun discussions about making slight alterations to the surviving route.
Although the Corps decision represents an important step in the process, DOTD face more hurdles, including securing a water quality certificate from the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The state must also devise a plan to offset damage to wetlands.