Crumbling paved roads in rural areas of Lafayette Parish might be ground back to gravel, and there is precious little money to repair rural bridges that might have to be closed for safety reasons.
City-Parish Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard painted a bleak picture for the future of rural road, bridge and drainage work at a Monday meeting of the City-Parish Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee, a citizens group working on recommendations to shore up city-parish finances.
Among the most anemic areas of the budget is funding for infrastructure in rural areas of the parish, where tax revenue has not kept pace with the demands a growing number of subdivisions have placed on infrastructure.
Blanchard said city-parish government is scraping by to cover routine maintenance of roads, bridges and ditches outside the city limits and can’t even consider any major new projects.
“It’s triage. Which patient is closest to death and which one can we afford to work on?” he said.
The needs committee in May released a draft list of recommendations, calling for local leaders to seek efficiencies but also suggesting new taxes for drainage, recreation, roads and rural fire protection.
The group summoned Blanchard on Monday as it works to fine-tune the recommendations.
Chairman Chad Hanks said the group will likely present its findings to the City-Parish Council before the end of the year.
The lack of money for rural areas of the parish has been characterized as an impending “train wreck” by City-Parish President Joey Durel, whose administration last year released dire budget projections for rural infrastructure work.
By 2016, money will still be available for drainage maintenance work, but cash for new projects drops to zero, according to the projections.
Capital for rural roads and bridges was projected to drop to $1.5 million in 2016, then dip to $750,000 in 2017, barely enough for a handful of overlay projects.
“With the funds we have in the unincorporated areas of the parish, it’s almost impossible to do anything,” said City-Parish Councilman Jay Castille, who represents rural areas in northern Lafayette Parish. “We are at a crossroads right now, and something has to happen.”
Blanchard said the city-parish budget for this year has about $300,000 for overlaying rural roads, yet the Public Works Department had identified more than $50 million in needs for overlay and other repairs, raising the specter that some roads will revert to gravel for want of repair money.
If an inspection finds that a rural bridge is too dangerous to keep open, he said, city-parish government would likely have to tap nearly all available rural road and bridge money to fix it.
If a second bad bridge were identified in the same year, he’s not sure where that money might come from — a very real scenario considering the Public Works Department anticipates roughly four bridges each year might need major work or replacement.
“At some point, it’s a matter of what’s a priority,” Blanchard said after the meeting. “There is no magic bullet. There is no bridge fairy that is going to come here and build these things.”
The lack of funding for rural infrastructure work is an issue that has been percolating for years but few strategies have been proposed to address it.
“It’s going to hit the fan when bridges start closing,” Castille said.