$1.2 million allocated for advance work on road to Lamar-Dixon

Developing a “shovel ready” proposal to build a key outlet for Lamar-Dixon Expo Center will cost four times more than Ascension Parish officials first thought.

But the Parish Council voted without opposition Thursday, with three members absent, to spend $1.2 million on design and land acquisition for the 1-mile road that would tie South St. Landry Avenue to an existing road in the Edenborne development that reaches La. 44.

Parish President Tommy Martinez has said the project must be shovel ready so he can seek federal funding this year through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant to build the $12 million to $15 million road.

Last month, Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley called the proposed road the “single most important upgrade” the parish could do for Lamar-Dixon because of long-term concerns about moving people in and out of the facility during large events and emergencies.

Martinez told the council Transportation Committee Jan. 23 the advance work would cost $240,000, and the group sent the full council a recommendation to spend $250,000 on the work.

Estimates have gone up since then to $1.2 million.

Martinez acknowledged Thursday it was his error last month because he did not have all the information he needed.

But Councilman Todd Lambert, who sits on that committee, aired concerns Thursday about spending so much money without a grant in hand.

He asked for time to see what came of Martinez’s planned visit to Washington, D.C., later this month on the grant.

“Do you have to have it before you go to Washington?” Lambert asked.

Jason Taylor, parish chief engineer, said Martinez will have preliminary reports for his trip but said the engineering firm doing the survey and design work will not have enough time to finish it with a delay.

“And it’s already a tight, tight schedule,” Taylor said.

Lambert countered that every time the parish does something it is a “real, real tight schedule, especially at $1.2 million. That’s a big chunk coming out of our road fund.”

Several other council members rose to the defense of the project.

Councilman Kent Schexnaydre noted the Lamar-Dixon connector has been discussed for several years.

“At some point and time, if we’re going to build roads in Ascension Parish, we’ve got to step up and got to do the preliminary work, and people in this parish need to realize that improved transportation costs a great deal money, and this is a great deal of money,” Schexnaydre said.

But he said he thought the work was a good investment.

Taylor had noted earlier that even if the parish does not get the TIGER grant, the work would put the parish in position for other funding.