WALKER — The city’s new master plan suggests there are needs for creating new thoroughfares, updating development codes, improving drainage and considering major annexations.
“The city is in the early stages of a significant development expansion, where allowing public and private sector development to continue status quo will only further exacerbate the city’s problems and decrease the city’s quality of life for residents,” the plan states.
With Walker projected to grow 89 percent to a population of 11,600 in the next 20 years, infrastructure is not sufficient to handle the growth, according to the plan just approved by the Board of Aldermen.
Among the issues the plan addresses are providing infrastructure for homes and businesses that continue to rapidly locate in the city, while maintaining a small-town quality of life.
Traffic, road “connectivity” and commute times already have become problems that woill only grow worse if more major roadways aren’t created, the plan says.
The fact that only 2.4 percent of Walker’s employed residents work in the city, combined with road and traffic problems, results in workers having high commute times.
“An unplanned, inefficient thoroughfare network is contributing to significant congestion problems and a decreased quality of life,” according to the plan.
The master plan stresses the importance of creating a thoroughfare development plan.
“Walker doesn’t have the money to build a thruway through the city” and will have to rely on the state or even the federal government” to provide those funds, said Walker Mayor Bobby Font, who agrees that more major roadways are needed.
Currently, Walker has only two east-west thoroughfares and one north-south thoroughfare, which can’t adequately handle even the current traffic, load, Font said.
Planners say Walker not only needs enhancement of its major roadways, but needs three more north-south thoroughfares and two more east-west thoroughfares to handle the traffic growth it will face by 2030.
Failure to provide adequate thoroughfares would worsen “traffic congestion that is already considered poor,” the plan states.
“Inadequate preservation of right-of-way, poor access management and limited connectivity provisions will make it difficult for the city or parish to expand the road system to accommodate future increase in traffic,” according to the plan.
While funds aren’t available to build new roadways immediately, a key to getting them built is preserving the land in the paths where the roads are needed. However, some of those paths are outside the city and its jurisdiction, the plan notes.
One way of dealing with that and similar other problems is for Walker to attempt to annex certain areas, according to the plan, which specifically mentions annexing a possible Interstate 12 interchange site.
The city also could refuse to provide water, sewer and gas services outside the city to developers who don’t agree to follow city policies, the plan says.
Font said Walker can deal with corridors for roadways and some other planning issues by working with developers inside and outside the city.
For instance, developers could help with roadway sections that front their projects, Font said.
The master plan also suggests the city needs to deal with other development issues outside its city limits that will have an impact on the city.
“Walker is threatened by unregulated, sprawling development around its periphery, which will be a detriment to the character of Walker unless better controlled,” the plan states.
Development regulated by the parish is being permitted without protections and infrastructure needed for sustainability, “and is not in the best interests of the city nor the parish,” the plan says.
The plan suggests that Walker consider annexing an area near the site of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s new hospital.
Font said he expects numerous businesses to move into that area to support the hospital once it is completed and open for patients.
Annexations could also include land to the west of Walker along both sides of I-12 to Juban Road, where another large development is planned, the plan says.
With more than 70 percent of the city located within floodplains, it is “important to be proactive” in dealing with drainage, the plan says.
One of its suggestions is to study the feasibility of building a large retention pond north of I-12 at Colyell Creek. That pond would potentially double as a regional park and could connect to a citywide trail system.
The city’s parks are “deficient” in distribution and need improvements to meet residents’ needs, the plan states.
The plan further suggests construction of a new municipal building “that meets the daily civic needs, but also contains a structurally sound safe area for residents to seek refuge during large-scale storm events or other emergencies.”
An alternative would be to “coordinate with the state to construct a state evacuation center that can be jointly utilized as a community center.”
The plan suggests that the city encourage compatible land uses “avoiding mixtures of incompatible land uses” near each other.
That could include defining “the future development character of vacant properties adjacent to existing neighborhoods,” and creating neighborhood conservation districts with standards that “promote the existing neighborhood feel.”
Font said he is pleased with the plan and the participation of hundreds of Walker residents who joined in helping create it.
Kendig Keast Collaborative put together the plan, which was funded by a $95,000 state grant, Font said.