Inside Report: J-turn projects verdict mixed in Ascension

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU --  David Mitchell at The Advocate's River Parishes Bureau in Gonzales on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. 1/17/13 MAGS OUT/INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT/GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT OUT/225 OUT/10/12 OUT/IN REGISTER OUT/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ ADAM LAU
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- David Mitchell at The Advocate's River Parishes Bureau in Gonzales on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. 1/17/13 MAGS OUT/INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC. OUT/GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT OUT/225 OUT/10/12 OUT/IN REGISTER OUT/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/MANDATORY CREDIT THE ADVOCATE/ ADAM LAU

The new J-turns nearly finished at La. 42 and Airline Highway in Prairieville have not been received well so far by some drivers.

The turns are a kind of U-turn that replace the left-turn movements at La. 42 and Airline to improve safety and traffic flow.

The complaints are many but may be related at least partially to an unfinished project: poorly timed traffic lights, missing signs, the inconvenience of J-turns themselves instead of more direct left turns, and backups on nearby roads from traffic avoiding the J-turns.

J-turns have been given a mixed public reception in other places, too.

Vicki Dumdei, district engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation, looked at J-turns for an intersection on U.S. 218 in Black Hawk County near Cedar Falls, Iowa, a few years ago.

Dumdei said in a telephone interview she visited Galena, Md., where residents and officials opposed a similar concept but became big fans after it was installed.

She said she went back to Iowa thinking J-turns could help on U.S. 218. Facing “fierce” public opposition and what Dumdei said was not a good fit with the large farm equipment using the intersection, Iowa DOT dropped J-turns in late 2009 in favor of other interim changes. A new interchange is being planned.

“Like any concept, you have to fit it where you put them,” Dumdei said.

In Louisiana, J-turns proposed at La. 1 and Sugar Plantation Parkway in Addis were also fiercely opposed in early 2012.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development ended up installing a traffic light instead, but is doing a corridor study on La. 1 for the long-term.

In the Lafayette area, where some more-progressive highway designs have had success, J-turns were finished in late 2012 on U.S. 90 and were better received.

Broussard Police Chief Brannon Decou said the turns have resulted in some businesses seeing less customer traffic, though he said many drivers understand the need for them.

He said injury crashes in the area with J-turns dropped in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the first quarter of 2012.

“It definitely took a learning curve for a little while, but for the most part, it is helping,” Decou said.

He said traffic flow has improved but J-turns were part of a project that also expanded U.S. 90 from four to six lanes. It is hard to say, he said, how J-turns alone are affecting traffic.

Will J-turns be a good fit in Ascension once DOTD gets Airline and La. 42 like it wants?

Parish officials point out that J-turns and other improvements on Airline resulted from a DOTD review triggered by approval of the 218-unit Bullion Crossing subdivision.

The subdivision, which now has homes in it and will get a school, has its only access onto Airline southbound just south of La. 42.

Worried about bus traffic, DOTD officials suggested a rear access on Swamp Road away from Airline, but Swamp Road residents successfully opposed the connection, arguing the road is too narrow for school buses.

Parish Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee said J-turns may help traffic a little bit, but it is a Band-Aid approach from DOTD.

“They need to put another lane or two on the Airline is what they need to do, if they are serious about doing something about traffic,” Satterlee said.

Parish officials proposed that last year under a road program supported with a half-cent sales tax. Voters rejected the proposal in November. Satterlee said parish taxpayers should not pay for what is the state’s obligation.

David J. Mitchell covers Ascension Parish government for The Advocate’s River Parishes bureau. He can be reached at dmitchell@theadvocate.com.