Inside Report: Ascension council at bump in parish roads

Ascension Parish voters made a resounding statement in November 2012 when they rejected parish government’s half-cent sales tax for roads.

The proposed 25-year tax went down by 14 percentage points to the surprise of parish officials who believed in the weeks and months leading up to the vote that the polling and anecdotal comments pointed to a win and a new, long-needed pot of road money.

Those who fought the tax have argued that the lesson of this defeat was for Ascension to live within its means.

Parish President Tommy Martinez is raising the prospect of an end to new parish roads and neighborhood taxing districts for new subdivisions. Some council members also are eyeing impact fees, but anyone who wants to see a day-to-day example of making do should have been with the Parish Council Transportation Committee on Aug. 12.

Councilman Dempsey Lambert wanted new three-way stops on David Drive at Manchac Acres Road and at Timberstone and Marblestone drives in Keystone of Galvez subdivision.

Lambert said the roads are cut-throughs for drivers trying to avoid traffic on state highways. He said accidents have happened on the roads, one of which is near a park.

Jason Taylor, parish engineer, told Lambert that the intersections do not meet parish standards for three-way stop signs, which look at factors that include the number of certain crashes in a 12-month period.

Taylor said installing stop signs also would violate the parish’s own ordinance for signs, which mirror national standards.

Taylor, who added that stop signs also are not intended to slow traffic, brought forward traffic-calming concepts as a solution.

Bicycle lanes, flower beds and chicanes all are features designed to create the perception of a narrower road and naturally force the drivers to slow down.

“The perception of the driver, in every study that I’ve ever read, is that the driver drives what he feels is safe and not what the speed limit is,” Taylor said.

Then came the rub.

“Do we have any budget for these kinds of speed-reduction methods?” Councilwoman Teri Casso asked.

Taylor responded: “As far as I know, there is nothing specifically in place for that, no.”

Councilman Chris Loar proposed signs showing drivers how fast they are driving to get them to slow down.

Taylor said those signs are cheaper but still $1,700 each, though the parish could apply for a grant.

Councilman Todd Lambert said he does not know any other way to solve the problem besides telling the public to slow down and having deputies write more tickets. Lambert, who relented later that day on a push to remove speed cushions — a rubberized type of speed bump — on Tiggy Duplessis Road, argued against that option. He would later point out that District Attorney Ricky Babin wrote the parish a letter warning that cushions pose a liability risk for parish government.

Confronted with these dead ends, Councilman Dempsey Lambert said he would meet with the administration on a solution to the three-way stop signs, which are quick and cheap.

Councilman Oliver Joseph, who had pressed for an ordinance change by which residents could petition for signs, said the parish can either close the roads, pursue options it does not have the money for or change the law on stop signs. “We have put ourself in this position, and we have nowhere else to go right now besides change the rules,” he said.

David J. Mitchell covers Ascension Parish government for The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter, @NewsieDave.