St. Tammany president challenges governor to do more on I-12 widening

MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - The St. Tammany Parish president is firing back at Gov. John Bel Edwards over the issue of widening a dangerous stretch of Interstate 12.

Earlier this week, the governor said the money was not there. Parish President Pat Brister said Wednesday that that is not acceptable.

The stretch of interstate constantly backs up. Two weeks ago, four people died in a 10-vehicle pileup.

Last week, Edwards sent Brister a letter saying the state doesn't have the money to widen I-12 because of legislative inaction.

"I was disappointed," Brister said. "We have a problem. Blaming the House doesn't do us any good."

Brister said in a letter to the governor that widening of I-12 shouldn't have to wait five years.

"The buck stops there. If he wanted it completed, all he has to do is say he wants it complete," said Brister.

Wednesday afternoon, the governor's office issued a statement saying: "Everyone across the state wants something done, but no one wants to pay for it. That's the reality of trying to fund a $13 billion transportation backlog with a gas tax that is more than 30 years old."

"They need to change the priorities of the state so this becomes the top project in the state, so we can stop people from dying," said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

The interstate at Covington could be slowing development in a fast-growing area. Traffic along a 5-mile stretch between highways 190 and 1077 has nearly doubled in five years, and so have accidents. In 2012, there were 135. That grew to 222 last year.

"There are schools, people who go to work on that interstate That worries me more than anything," said Donahue.

The recent pileup claimed four lives in broad daylight, including Rachel Lehman, a former neighbor of the parish president.

"I knew who she was," Brister said. "Whether she was my personal friend or not, there's a mother, wife and sister who's gone, and the people from Baton Rouge also, those are things we never want to see again. And if we don't do anything, I fear we will."

The GOP-dominated St. Tammany delegation is frequently at odds with the Democrat governor, and some believe the failure to do more on I-12 is politically driven - a charge the governor denies.

Brister said she will continue talks with congressional and transportation leaders in her effort to have funding for the I-12 widening project moved up to 2019.

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