A road project most Lafayette residents likely had never heard of a year ago has been quickly gaining momentum to become the next crossing over the Vermilion River.
City-parish government is moving forward with a $350,000 engineering study to narrow down the possible routes for the extension of South City Parkway in south Lafayette and is considering buying 26 acres to secure much of the right-of-way for the road.
“This is pretty much the No. 1 bang-for-the-buck project in regards to reducing traffic,” said City-Parish Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard.
In terms of roadways, Lafayette is literally a city divided by the Vermilion River, and any new crossing has the potential to improve traffic, particularly for the congested arteries of south Lafayette.
“It’s one of those reminders that we are a river city, but we don’t always act like it. We need more bridges,” Blanchard said.
The most recent bridge across the Vermilion River was built in 2003 on Camellia Boulevard near River Ranch.
There has long been talk of the need for more river crossings, and the next bridge had been planned as part of project to extend South College Road.
Blanchard said the South College project is now expected to yield to the South City extension.
“I would say it’s on the longterm backburner,” he said.
Traffic studies show extending South College over the Vermilion River could make traffic worse in the absence of additional intersection upgrades and other projects in the area, Blanchard said.
The improvements from extending South City, on the other hand, would be dramatic, according to traffic projections by city-parish planners.
Ambassador Caffery Parkway is now the main corridor crossing the river in south Lafayette, and Ambassador Caffery is expected to be plagued with daily gridlock within 25 years if no new roads are built to relieve traffic, according to traffic models provided by city-parish government.
Extending South City from Robley Drive over the river to Verot School Road could keep daily traffic counts at the Ambassador Caffery bridge at present-day levels — roughly 57,000 — through 2040, according to the city-parish traffic models.
Those same models show that if nothing is done to relieve Ambassador Caffery, average daily traffic counts could climb to 69,000 at the Ambassador Caffery bridge by 2040, essentially year-round bumper-to-bumper traffic comparable to what’s seen at the height of the holiday shopping season.
Still, the South City project is by no means a sure thing, and some residents in the area where the road might be built have pushed back, complaining about the prospects of traffic and noise in an area that is now largely quiet and undeveloped.
City-Parish President Joey Durel said those issues will have to be dealt with eventually, but it’s too early to debate details of the possible impact before the completion of a $350,000 study starting this year to narrow down possible routes.
“This is the first stage of saying, ‘This is where the road should go,’ ” Durel said.
Most of the major decisions about the road will be made by someone other than Durel, who is serving the last year of his third and final term in office.
But Durel hopes to take a big step forward on the South City project before leaving, with the purchase of about 26 acres of land that takes in more than half of the general area being considered for the road.
A developer had begun work on the property but stopped earlier this year when serious talk began about the South City extension, and Durel estimated the property could be acquired for about $1 million. The cost, he said, is much cheaper than having to buy out businesses and homeowners if the road were cut through the middle of developed land.
There is no reliable estimate for building the road and bridge, but Blanchard said a very rough guess would put the project north of $50 million.
Durel said one option to pay the bill would be revenues from a temporary sales tax similar to what voters approved in December for building a new terminal at the Lafayette Regional Airport — a 1-cent tax with collections limited to eight months and restricted to paying for airport terminal improvements.
“Now we have a model of how a specific project could be paid for,” Durel said.