Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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SLIDELL, La. -- Families gearing up for holiday travel and shopping got an early Christmas present Monday.

The long-awaited widening of Interstate 12 in Slidell is finished, giving drivers six lanes of travel and new, extended and expanded ramps.

Shoppers that frequent the Northshore Square Mall are especially excited about the opening because they say that's where traffic has always backed up onto the interstate.

'I think any mother with young kids knows we have a limited amount of time to get from one place to the next before a meltdown starts,' said Jennifer Irwin, 'I have a 7-month-old and a 3-year-old, so it's always nice once I get out the door to get where I'm going quickly.'

The improvements are all part of the $26 million expansion project that stretches from the I-10/I-59/I-12 interchange down I-12 to the bridge before Airport Rd.

DOTD Secretary Sherry LeBas said it's great news for residents and business, but also for freight transportation, especially freight companies based out of Slidell.

'The opportunity for smoother and more rapid ingress and egress for our trucks on a daily basis is gonna be greatly facilitated,' said Thompson Packers Vice President Derise Morel.

New business also benefits from this highway expansion. The parish says better infrastructure grows the economy and Saint Tammany is ready to build on it.

'One of the greatest strengths of economic development is the east of transportation in and throughout St. Tammany Parish. We'll always need to stay one step ahead of the demand for transportation,' said St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.

The project was paid for entirely with surplus state money. It took a year and eight months to complete.

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