If there’s one thing I could wish for the readers of my columns, it would be the opportunity to sit down with the administrators and elected leaders of our local governments and discover the incredible amount of work these folks do for the residents and businesses in our city and parish.
Monday’s column described the Bossier Parish Police Jury’s work to create a parish-wide utility system – today it’s the details of my visit with Jury Engineer Butch Ford and Administrator Bill Altimus to discuss the Jury’s progress on the “Bossier Parish Transportation Plan (2004-2015).”
The plan listed three “Priority 1” projects, including:
*Airline Drive Widening (Swan Lake Rd. to Kingston Rd.)
*Crouch Road Extension (Parks Rd. to Swan Lake Rd.)
*Swan Lake Widening (New Crouch Rd. to I-220)
The balance of the plan called for:
*Priority 2 – Winfield Road Extension (Bellevue Rd. to Airline Dr.)
*Priority 3 – Wafer Road Extension (Winfield Rd. to Bellevue Rd.)
*Priority 4 – Wemple Road Extension (Old Brownlee to La3)
The plan included transportation issues addressed in the city-parish master plan – but it refined some of the master plan’s shortcomings. Ford said master planners recommended building some roadways in what is largely wetlands areas, and it was a couple of local engineers – Sammy Craft and Charles Coyle – who came to the Jury to suggest alternate and significantly more workable routes.
That issue solved, there was still the problem of funding. Ford recalled that when the project list was complete, the Jury “looked at the cost, we saw the numbers and that’s when we went to the feds.”
Although the Wemple Road Extension was on the list for federal funding, the Jury did this project “in house” because the growth in that part of the parish was such that it couldn’t wait. According to Ford, this 2006 project helped folks who live in Lakewood and Rosedale and ensured a better traffic flow in the face of new commercial and hospital development along Airline Drive at I-220.
The Airline Drive widening project, a $4.2 million undertaking, was another of the Jury’s early projects.
The Jury was also successful in securing federal funding. Ford explained that when the Jury approached our local Congressional delegation in 2004, “ … the federal highway administration had plenty of money.” He explained that at that time, for every dollar of federal fuel tax, about 89 cents was returned to the states – and that “… the feds always kept a reserve …”
The Jury ended up with about $7.2 million to start engineering and environmental design, in the form of a direct appropriation to the Bossier Parish Police Jury – which was a big deal since normally the state would get the funds and pass them along to local government.
Armed with funding, the Jury chose to pursue a North-South route with the Swan Lake Road and the Crouch Road Extension projects. This is a significant project as it will take some of the load off existing roads. According to Ford, it will also decrease response time to get to the hospitals by 10-15 minutes, “… because now you’ve got to go down Crouch Road to Parks to Linton, down Airline to the hospital – when you could shoot straight down.”
In 2008 Jury then started the environmental process, along the National Environmental Agency Process (NEPA) guidelines, and received a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). Ford said the process would have been completed six months earlier than it was, but “rare dirt” was found on top of the hill at Crouch Road.
“It’s prairie soil, and it’s very unique – only a few places in the country that have it. And so we had to mitigate that – move the road.”
“Five hundred thousand dollars that cost us to miss the rare dirt,” added Altimus.
The Jury has also completed the NEPA process for both the Wafer Road Extension and Winfield Extension (east-west). All three routes selected and cleared environmentally, a roadblock to construction occurred in 2008 when the economy took a dive that the Jury (along with most of us) wasn’t expecting.
Said Ford, “… the federal transportation tax fund can’t keep up with the amount of dollars going out … and we can’t go get any more earmarks for these projects. Now, our earmarks are different; these are transportation projects … we’re building roads to help people and to help the state and federal highways.”
Ford explained the new federal transportation bill, passed last year and called MAP 21 is a two year bill that will result in a new bill being passed next year.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. Contact her at email@example.com