Parish focuses on traffic needs

Ascension Parish government officials remain concerned about how they’re going to address future traffic infrastructure needs.

The Parish Council’s Transportation Committee met Wednesday night to discuss a master streets plan as well as the administration’s future plans in the wake of the November defeat of a half-cent sales tax that would have been dedicated to road projects in the parish for the next 25 years.

“Just because the tax didn’t pass doesn’t mean you stop planning,” Parish President Tommy Martinez said. “You’ve got to look ahead.”

Martinez told the four-member committee that the parish adds about 10 miles per year to the roughly 500 miles of roadway in the parish system, but he didn’t believe it would be responsible to continue accepting new roads unless developers pay the parish for upkeep.

That would require the approval of an ordinance by the council, and Martinez said he planned to bring that ordinance before the Transportation Committee next month.

In the meantime, he said, the lack of any additional revenue for roads will stall any new road improvements.

“Right now, the bottom line is we’re going to maintain,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”

“We need a pretty decent budget to be able to move forward because right now we’re maintaining,” Councilman Randy Clouatre said.

Councilman Todd Lambert said the state is “doing their part” to upgrade major roadways in the parish. Chief engineer Ben Laurie said $91.1 million in state projects — including the $50 million project to widen La. 42 — are under way or in the planning stage.

But the parish can’t keep up with its demands, Martinez said. He promised to make as many cuts as possible to trim the budget and make more revenue available for road projects.

Councilwoman Teri Casso cited “misguided opposition” to the administration’s road plan, which focused on improving intersections by adding roundabouts and turning lanes, and pleaded with residents to help the council and administration find ways to expand the parish’s “very limited” road budget.

She said “the price of inaction” is that residents’ lives are put in danger on failing roads.

“We have a record number of children in elementary schools in Ascension Parish who will learn to drive on inadequate roads,” she said.

The committee voted to send the master street plan, which categorizes different types of roads in the parish and sets various standards for them, to the full council for review.