HARVEY, La. -- The west bank of Jefferson Parish is booming with new businesses and retail outlets.
As a result, on any given day traffic backs up on the highway as vehicles try to enter or exit the Westbank Expressway.
New on and off ramps needed to take the pressure off exits at Manhattan and Barataria Boulevards are still on the drawing board, nowhere close to being built.
'I'm tired of paying the toll for nothing,' said Marrero state Rep. Pat Connick. 'I'm tired of waiting in traffic to try to get home when these ramps that were promised to us 20 years ago are not even started.'
Recently Connick approached state transportation leaders, trying to get a status report on plans to build a new highway interchange connecting Peters Road in Harvey to the Westbank Expressway.
'The fact that it's taken eight years to get an engineering study done is just outrageous,' said Connick.
The Jefferson Parish Council picked Metairie based Design Engineering, Inc. to do the work.
According to state contracts obtained by 4 Investigates, the fee on the job, capped at $173,000 in 2002, has now ballooned to more than $4 million.
The Jefferson Parish Council approved the extensions and cost increases.
'This was being recommended by the state, and I wasn't going to be the one to say no we're not going to improve those down ramps,' said Councilman Elton Lagasse.
But, according to Connick, the parish council may have ignored a state law by routinely approving amendments to Design Engineering's contract, increasing the cost of the original job more 2500 percent in eight years.
'The firm was competitively picked,' said Connick. 'However that was when it was $174,000. If it increases over that amount by 50 percent, another competitive process needs to take place and I don't think that's been done in this case.'
In April 2009, Lagasse, who represents part of the West Bank, made a motion to extend Design Engineering's contract.
The firm is owned by Walter Baudier, a major campaign contributor in Jefferson Parish. He's given money to the majority of Jefferson Parish council members.
According to records obtained by 4 Investigates, Lagasse received $3,500 in two separate donations from Baudier in the months following the contract extensions.
'I have no idea who gives me money,' said Lagasse. 'I don't deal with money. I don't collect money. I don't sign checks. There's a committee that picks it up. I had no idea whether Walter Baudier gave me $3500 or not.'
Lagasse said there's no money set aside in the state's building budget to construct the Peters Road ramps. He promises not to increase Design Engineering's contract again until there is.
'If it comes back again, we're going to stop and talk to the state and say do we have money now or do we spend more money or do we just hold off until there is money available,' said Lagasse.
Connick said in the meantime, toll money from the Crescent City Connection bridge is tied up on a project that may never get built.
'We're paying the money to improve the roads, but why aren't the roads being improved,' said Connick. 'They keep making changes to the plans, keep making changes to the ramps, making excuses why these roads are being built. The bottom line is we still have traffic issues.'
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development released a statement indicating the Peters Road ramp improvements are part of a parish project, paid for with a mix of toll money and state capital outlay dollars.
The statement also said that Design Engineering, Inc. was picked through a competitive selection process and that DOTD has approved up to $4.1 million for engineering work on the project.
Walter Baudier was invited to comment on this story. He did not return WWL-TV's phone calls.
This story was based on research by 4 Investigates and the investigative web site, The Jefferson Report. Read more at www.thejeffersonreport.com.