Ascension officials recommend funding for road project near Lamar-Dixon

Site of proposed road
Site of proposed road

Ascension Parish officials said they hope to see a proposed 1-mile road connecting Lamar-Dixon Expo Center to La. 44 “shovel ready” so they can apply for federal grant money later this year.

Parish officials said they want to take advantage of a federal Tiger Grant to fund the connector that has been eyed for several years as another way to move people in and out of the parish government-owned events complex near Gonzales.

Under current plans, the estimated $10 million, four-lane road would tie South St. Landry Avenue, a key access route to Lamar-Dixon from La. 30, to a road already built in the Edenborne development.

The mixed-use project is home to the new River Parishes Community College campus now under construction. The development’s road ties into La. 44 near the Interstate 10-Burnside exit.

About 40 percent of projects receiving grants under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant program have a rail component in them, according the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

This connector would have no rail component, but the program also calls for certain eligible bridge and highway projects.

Parish President Tommy Martinez told the Parish Council road committee Thursday night that several of the landowners are willing to give the parish right of way but the road will require wetlands mitigation and some elevated sections.

“It’s 1 mile, but it’s an expensive 1 mile” because of the terrain the road would go through, Martinez said.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley told the Council Transportation Committee that Lamar-Dixon’s entrances and exits are “clearly limited.” It has essentially two ways in and out.

Wiley said if the parish wants to increase events at the center, that will mean added strain on law enforcement to direct traffic.

He said the center “desperately needs” another outlet, noting officials in the nearby petrochemical corridor are already “on the edge of their seats” about how large crowds could be moved out of Lamar-Dixon quickly in the event of a major chemical release.

Wiley also suggested another outlet would make the center more attractive to visitors who would not have to factor in long waits to get in and out.

“I think it would be the single most important upgrade that this parish could do for that facility,” he said.

The committee recommended without opposition setting aside $250,000, $10,000 more than Martinez requested, to do environmental and design studies so the project can be ready for the grant application later this year.

The full council must still vote on the request.

If the grant effort fails, Martinez said, the Capital Region Planning Commission, a regional transportation planning organization in Baton Rouge, is also looking for “shovel ready” projects that can be federally funded.

“So we got two or three bites at the apple if we can spend this $240,000, so I think it’ll be well-spent, and I think we’ll get a great return on our money at some point.”