GONZALES — Residents in unincorporated areas of Ascension Parish will vote Nov. 6 on a sales tax to fund roughly $150 million in road infrastructure improvements, but some residents are questioning whether the plan goes far enough in addressing the parish’s needs.
The 25-year, half-cent sales tax, which is expected to generate between $7 million and $9 million in revenue per year, will be on the ballot for residents not living in Gonzales, Donaldsonville or Sorrento. Early voting begins on Tuesday and will continue through Oct. 30.
Michael Songy, a consultant hired by the parish, said the focus will be on widening and intersection improvements along Airline Highway; intersection improvements along La. 22, La. 30, La. 73, La. 431 and several other key local corridor intersections; and the replacement or improvement of 10 bridges.
The parish also will take over several state roads in exchange for about $50 million in projects from state Department of Transportation and Development, Songy said.
Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said improving the parish’s transportation infrastructure is the top priority of both his administration and residents. “We took a poll recently and traffic congestion was the No. 1 problem. No. 2? Traffic congestion,” he said.
With the continued growth — industrially, commercially and residentially — going on in the parish, Martinez said parish government officials must look at improving infrastructure.
“We’re going to tackle roads,” he said. “We’ve come up with what I think is a great plan.”
Songy said the parish’s road grid works for most of the day, but there are times when the intersection system, consisting mostly of traffic lights and four-way stop signs with no turning lanes, causes gridlock. “That works good from 9 to 4, but not before that or after that,” he said.
The proposal will add turning lanes at many major intersections and also could include roundabouts on some of the smaller, more rural roads in the parish, Songy said.
Parish officials identified the intersections as the start because they were “the most efficient way to get a lot of traffic moving quickly,” Songy said. More than $200 million in supplemental projects are planned, including the widening of several highways, if growth continues as expected, he said.
“This sets the stage for a regional plan in the future,” Songy said.
Not everyone is on board with the administration’s plan, however.
Several members of the Ascension Parish Republican Party Executive Committee have said they oppose the sales tax, and signs have popped up asking residents to vote against any new taxes.
Milton Clouatre, a member of the Republican Party executive committee, said the road tax provides only a temporary fix to the parish’s transportation issues and will leave a much bigger problem 20 to 25 years later. “Do we have traffic problems, or do we have road problems?” he asked.
Clouatre said growth has brought more vehicles into the parish, leading to traffic problems. Those problems can only be fixed, he said, by overhauling roads, not widening some key intersections.
Perkins Road in the Prairieville area is a prime example, Clouatre said. From the Airline Highway intersection to the parish line at Bayou Manchac, the road “is not big enough or wide enough to handle the traffic,” he said.
Clouatre said he is not supporting the road tax because the parish’s plan does not provide for a “true fix” to the problem.
“I don’t say I know what the answer is,” Clouatre said. “I don’t know. As an architect and engineer, this doesn’t look like it’s the answer.”
Chris Loar, a Republican and Ascension Parish Council chairman, said the traffic problem isn’t going to fix itself.
Part of the reason the parish has grown, Loar said, is because of the leadership and vision of the parish school system and Sheriff’s Office, which were able to get sales taxes passed for operations. Now parish government officials are trying to do the same thing with road improvements, he said.
“I simply ask that you consider all this and not paint it with the broad ‘no-new-taxes’ brush,” Loar said. “If we’re going to solve this, what’s it going to take?”
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