Again, we are told that Baton Rouge traffic is some of the worst in the nation.
And, again, we must echo the sentiment that has been stated since Katrina caused a population boom in the capital area.
“The residents of Baton Rouge and surrounding areas know, all too well, that our traffic situation is abysmal… and there’s nothing we can do about it, currently.”
That statement is both a hard-earned truth, easily slipping off the tongue of someone trying to accept it as a fact. But, in most cases, it also comes with a very depressing undercurrent.
A recent study from Texas A&M shed some light on the subject – Baton Rouge and the surrounding area ranked third in the nation among mid-level cities in traffic issues. Since Katrina in 2005, the capital area’s population has continued to increase at a near-exponential rate, with a large portion of those citizens living in suburban areas.
If you include the recent annexation of St. George and it’s population, by far the most people live outside the city than within it.
Discussing Livingston Parish, since 2005 the parish’s population has more than doubled, with a census on the horizon looking for 150,000 plus, but probably somewhere in the realm of just over 140,000. The statistic mimicked in the original Master Plan from 2013 was that two-out-of-three residents left Livingston Parish for work, every day.
Now, subtract 27,000 students, and another 15,000 or so who can’t or won’t drive, and you’re looking at around 100,000 drivers per day – so 66,000 leave to go into Baton Rouge, Hammond, Ascension, or some other nearby area for work.
That’s a lot of people on the roads, and they have but few means of traversing the Amite River.
I-12 was expanded, and yet traffic remains a steady constant on the thoroughfare and Highway 190 heading into Baton Rouge every day. The state is working to expand I-10 into Ascension, as well as Highway 61.
The result? The same amount of traffic, as was learned in Livingston Parish. Why? Because the state is keeping the same drivers on the same thoroughfares, going to the same speeds, and then expecting them to squeeze together at the same time – because they’re all getting off at the same exit they were before the interstate was expanded.
No one decided to get off at Satsuma instead of Walker after the interstate was expanded, and then to backtrack.
Why expand? Why no new laterals through the area? Because widening existing roads is cheaper, and it’s an immediate ‘perceived’ fix.
Who didn’t love the I-12 expansion when it was first cleared (no hindsight on the barrier)? After so many issues along the way, there was a feeling of euphoria driving from Range Avenue to O’Neal Lane in three lanes, as opposed to a go-kart tunnel. And the difference between the cost of expanding that section of road, as opposed to say – connecting Watson to Wax Road via a three-lane highway and a bridge?
Fresh roads are expensive, much more expensive than expanding current roads, and it’s why Livingston Parish hasn’t seen a new thoroughfare since the early 1900s. Unfortunately, expanding already clogged roadways just allows more people to sit in traffic at the same time.
So new laterals across the Amite River, for Livingston Parish, are the only answer. But how to afford those laterals, as the parish waits patiently for Cook Road extension – which will cover about ¾ of a mile.
The fastest way to providence is toll roads, but that method has carried such a horrible label as a discussion for traffic alleviation in the capital area. Make no mention of the fact that the Causeway produces a profit.
The second way? Well, cleaning up the budget will help but with $32 billion in backlog (which is probably closer to $36 billion, at this point) will take new revenue and, if that’s not tolls, it’s a tax.
Nothing is fun about higher taxes or tolls, but it’s reached the point of ridiculous that the Baton Rouge area’s traffic is so bad that the Red Stick receives at least two studies a quarter on our horrible highway system.
It’s time to bite the bullet – neither will be fun, but if we don’t do something now how long before the problem is insurmountable?
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.