Continuing where last week’s column ended …
The Bossier Parish Police Jury is ready to build more roads. The Jury’s Bossier Parish Transportation Plan 2004-2015 called for widening Airline Drive and Swan Lake Road, along with major extensions to Crouch Road, Wafer Road, Winfield Road and Wemple Road.
The Airline Drive and Wemple Road projects are complete; the Crouch Road extension and Swan Lake Road projects, along with the Winfield and Wafer Road extension projects are planned and ready to execute. But as noted last week, federal funding for transportation projects has all but dried up.
The Jury still has enough of the original $7.2 million left to purchase the right of way for the North-South (Crouch Road-Swan Lake Road) project. Parish Engineer Butch Ford said that the Jury is sending notifications to property owners along the route advising that appraisers will be out appraising property for right-of-way.
Ford said, “The right-of-way costs on Swan Lake that I estimated at a million dollars ten years ago is $5 million today. The property values have gone through the roof. So we were stuck – costs had gone up, road costs had gone up, right-of-way costs have gone up – so what do we do?”
The Jury went looking for another source to fund these projects, and found it in the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG).
According to Ford, NLCOG has “ …some monies available every year over the next five to eight years, so we have been guaranteed … we have the money to build the North-South … It may take some time, but we’re going to build it – Crouch Road extension and Swan Lake. So, we’re concentrating on the North-South because that’s how much money we have. We can’t initiate any other engineering contracts on any of these other projects because there’s no fed money … so we just picked the one that needs to be done – the most important priority road.”
Jury Administrator Bill Altimus added that this project will probably be done in phases.
“We were looking at doing it all in one shot – which is what we would like to do and normally that’s our style – but because of the money and the way the money is going to flow through NLCOG, we’re going to divide it up into two projects …”
The above-described projects are in the north part of the parish – but the south part of Bossier Parish hasn’t been neglected on the transportation front. The terminus of the Jury’s southern extension of the ART Parkway at Parkway High School is temporary; the Jury is already looking at right-of-way to continue the road at least as far south as Taylortown.
And the Jury hasn’t limited its search for transportation project funding to local and federal sources. Ford and Altimus described a state program called “right sizing” that offers potential funding. The program allows a parish or city government to take a state road into the parish or city road system – after the state has put the road into good repair, and then provides the gaining entity with 40 years of maintenance funds at about $400,000 to $500,000 per mile.
Bossier City used this program to take North Gate Road into its road system.
Ford explained: “So if you took 10 miles, you get $5 million. If we judiciously look at some roads that are state roads in the parish, and we can get them brought up to standard at state expense, and they’ll (state) give us 40 years of maintenance funding on it, we can take that 40 years of maintenance money and move to other projects if the Jury so desires. So we’re looking at that. But that’s a tough decision for the Police Jury; we’ve got 800 miles or roads we’re supposed to maintain now – do we want to take on anymore? But that’s a source of funds we could consider.”
Altimus sits on a steering committee at the national level for transportation for the National Association of Counties which suggests policy to the federal government. As such, transportation includes everything from airports, to ports, to roads, bridges, and airlines.
He noted that when the price of gas goes up, people don’t drive as much, and today’s vehicles are much more fuel efficient than in the past – but the federal administrators don’t want to raise the gas tax. And he said that he attended a recent event at which innovative ways of financing infrastructure was discussed – private entities funding toll roads or bridges, or whatever the need.
“I don’t know how successful we’d be here,” Altimus said. “If you really want to do another bridge at Jimmy Davis, do a toll bridge. The Dallas-Forth Worth area is doing billions of dollars of new construction … it’s private and government (funded).”
Fifteen years ago when I started writing about local governments, the Bossier Parish Police Jury was doing well to patch pot holes with dirt. But this governmental entity has come a long way in improving the Parish’s transportation system – and diligently searching for the funding to do so. The transportation plan, along with the new utility district ought to be enough to keep the Jury busy for years – but that’s not the full extent of the Jury’s work to improve Bossier Parish. In the next few weeks, look for updates on the Jury’s work on parish bridges and recreation projects.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org