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Monday, Feb. 16, 2015

GOOD PLANNING

The ongoing effort to improve Bossier transportation

A visit with Bossier Parish police juror Wanda Bennett is always an energetic affair – particularly if jury administrator Bill Altimus and engineers Butch Ford and Bruce Easterly are involved.

Our most recent conversation centered on transportation issues, and in this area like most of the jury’s undertakings, longrange planning is a keystone of the jury’s consistent progress. We picked up, generally, where we left off in a series of The Forum columns a year ago.

Bennett said planning means a jury transportation priority is to “move our citizens safely and quickly,” and as a result there’s been a concentration on the northsouth routes – as well as the eastwest.

“I never tire of mentioning to people the fact that I see Bossier Parish respected wherever we go because of the business practices – good planning; Bossier Parish is known for being a ‘planner.’” While growth in Bossier Parish is moving somewhat south, the parish’s northward expansion from Bossier City to Benton continues at a brisk pace, and this is a chief jury focus. Altimus noted the jury’s 2002 transportation congestion relief plan remains relevant today although implementing it was slowed considerably when voters defeated a small millage increase proposition in 2006.

Altimus said despite that set back, the jury has made significant progress in executing planning. “Later on this year, we will have a project out for the first phase of the Swan Lake Road extension,” he said.

“We were going to do it all at one time when we had the earmark for the direct appropriation to us to construct, really, three roads – one was the Swan Lake Road extension, the other was east-west Winfield Road extension and the other was Wafer Road.”

Altimus said roughly $7 million in the federal funding paid for all of the environmental work on all three projects. But since federal funding has generally dried up, and just the Swan Lake Road extension will cost an estimated $23-27 million, the jury decided to concentrate on the Swan Lake Road extension

since the parish would basically end up paying for it. The jury has some funding on hand – the 20 percent that would have been required for the federal match, another $600,000 allocated from state capital outlay that former state Rep. Billy Montgomery secured, and some funding through Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments.

The other roads will move up in priority as funding becomes available.

“We’re going to go from [Interstate 220] to where the intersection of the east-west road will be, which is roughly two miles north of Swan Lake Road. We feel that needs to be done first for a lot of reasons. The schools, Stonebridge, the new technical school is going in up there – the potential to have connector roads from Airline to Swan Lake, maybe coming out of the back of Sam’s or Target or Greenacres Boulevard – all of those are possibilities that somehow we could get one or all over to Swan Lake and perhaps relieve some of the congestion on Airline Drive because you’d be able to get on Swan Lake Road – all that’s going to be improved and you’d be able to come in the back end,” Altimus said.

While the jury plans for new roads, Bennett also talked about the parish’s existing roads and the jury’s maintenance of them.

“I would put our parish roads up against anybody’s, anywhere,” Bennett said.

She said that such had not always been true but since the jury opted to buy the equipment the jury’s transportation department needs to maintain the roads, and train the employees to use it – costs are lower and the roads are being maintained.

Ford said having proper equipment has allowed the jury to perform lasting maintenance on roads. For example, instead of simply putting down another layer of asphalt on a curb and gutter street, a $300,000 milling machine allows for milling the road out and putting the new asphalt in at the right grade – all done in house. Bossier Parish is one of few parishes that perform such work in house.

This isn’t the extent of the Bossier Parish Police Jury’s transportation planning and work – another project involves acquiring the right-of-way for the southern extension of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway.

And there there’s the crucial planning for repairs or replacements of some of the parish’s 100 bridges, an ongoing effort that’s already seen a number of bridge improvements.

And it’s certainly not the end of a conversation about the jury’s transportation plans and how to meet those costs. Look for this conversation to continue over the next couple of Forum issues.

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