GONZALES — Ascension Parish released some details Monday on a $35 million plan to improve traffic flow in the parish.
Called "Move Ascension," the construction project is designed to improve transportation corridors serving parts of the Gonzales area and northern Ascension, parish officials said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“Drivers in Ascension Parish do a fair bit of sitting and waiting, but I want them to do a lot more moving,” Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa said in the statement. “Move Ascension is designed to work in collaboration with the recently announced state highway improvements to provide capacity upgrades for parish corridors that see high usage.”
The announcement from Matassa came hours after he and his friend, Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot, appeared in court Monday morning to plead not guilty to attempted election bribery charges. He and Berthelot are accused of trying to entice A. Wayne Lawson with cash and a parish job to drop out the Nov. 8 Gonzales City Council race.
Since Matassa took office in early 2016, his administration has reorganized the parish public works department and hired engineering firm HNTB to develop an overarching, 20-year road plan. Matassa and the Parish Council are attempting to put more dollars into streets and other improvements without raising taxes.
Matassa did not show up for a Parish Council Transportation Committee on Monday night where officials went into more details of the plan, but the committee recommended pursuing the first round of capacity and safety projects, known as "immediate action" projects.
John Basilica Jr., vice president of HNTB, told the committee those projects will focus on building roundabouts and turn lanes and widening existing lanes for the Roddy Road. HNTB is a parish transportation consulting engineering firm.
The program will also include building a roundabout at La. 929 and Parker Road, widening existing lanes in the Henry Road corridor and building a connector road from Ashland Road to Edenborne Parkway.
Basilica told the committee the firm focused on projects that were most ready for construction or were tied into state projects to move them along more quickly.
Roddy is an important north-south route through the center of eastern Ascension. Henry is a key connection off La. 73 east of Airline Highway in Prairieville.
The parish is currently building the new Edenborne connector road, the first new parish-built road in decades. It will tie South St. Landry Avenue, the main route to Lamar-Dixon Expo Center from La. 30 near Gonzales, to La. 44 and I-10.
Under the plan, the new connector road would be extended farther northwest of South St. Landry to Ashland Road, giving plant traffic that uses Ashland a second route to I-10 that avoids congested La. 30 farther north.
The Parker Road-La. 929 intersection is one identified previously as one of the most dangerous in the parish.
The initial engineering work has been done and potential funding sources have been identified for all projects. A second step will include additional, similar projects, which could be let by 2019, parish officials said.
“We are moving forward with these projects with no additional cost to taxpayers,” Matassa said.
The parish has put together the funding for the Move Ascension plan from a new $25 million bond issue dedicated to an existing road sales tax the council gave early approval to last month and from reserve funds.
The long-term debt for a similar road bond issue approved in the early 2000s but was paid off late last year.
Parish Councilman Aaron Lawler has said the remaining $10 million for the $35 million plan will come from transportation fund reserve dollars.
Editor's note: The Advocate changed this story May 9, 2017, after it incorrectly identified John Basilica Jr., vice president of HNTB, as an engineer at the firm. Basilica is not a licensed engineer.