Bike paths that don’t compete for space with cars or trucks, better trail lighting and a deeper, healthier lake through dredging and wetland planting were among the improvements that made the cut for the draft Baton Rouge lakes plan unveiled Tuesday evening.
Although the draft plan includes a good bit of detail on what types of buildings and services would be placed where, John Spain, executive vice president with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, cautioned that the plan is far from complete.
“When I say this is a work in progress, it still is,” Spain said. Comments collected Tuesday night will be reworked into the plan, which will be re-presented to the public in July.
Planning for improvements to the Baton Rouge lakes started last spring when the Baton Rouge Area Foundation announced intentions to hire consultants to address environmental and recreational problems.
Over the years, the six lakes that make up the system — City Park, University, Campus, College, Crest and Erie — have slowly been filling in with sediment from surrounding properties. The shallow water gets warmer in the summer, leading to fish kills.
In addition, increased popularity of running, walking and biking around the lakes raises safety concerns as pedestrians and cyclists share the road with vehicles.
Hundreds of people showed up at Tuesday’s meeting at the Lod Cook Alumni Center at LSU, and many have attended previous meetings as the draft plan progressed.
As a result, there weren’t any big surprises. The plan calls for the lakes to be dredged and the material to be used to build wetlands, stabilize banks where erosion has been a problem and build land into the lake for new parks and green spaces.
Starting at the top of City Park Lake, the draft plan includes a parking lot and boathouse that would have boats available for public rental.
Driving down Dalrymple Drive toward LSU, the draft plan calls for a wetland fringe that would not only help the sediment situation but would have wetland plants to help clean out nutrients.
“It’s beautiful, and it’s doing work. It’s not just landscaping,” said Kinder Baumgardner, a landscape architect with SWA Group who was hired by the foundation to draft the plan.
He also showed the audience images of what parking areas could look like that would be far different from what you see at most shopping malls.
“We’re putting the park back in parking,” he said, showing images of heavily treed areas landscaped to help the parking lots blend in with the park surroundings.
The plan calls for sound-dampening work under the Interstate 10 overpass as well as clear sound barriers at the road surface.
At May Street, the draft plan proposes a new May Street Park as well as turning a portion of the street that separates City Park Lake and University Lake into a bridge.
“We want it to be very beautiful, elegant and simple,” he said.
The bridge would give the LSU crew teams enough room to hold competitions.
Farther south, on LSU’s campus, the draft plan calls for construction of a nature center just north of the Lod Cook Alumni Center. At Lod Cook, the draft plan calls for the use of some of the material to be dredged from the lake to build a green space in front of the alumni center that could be used as a gathering place.
Additional green space would be built out lakeside of West Lakeshore Drive along sorority row at LSU leading up to an LSU boathouse.
From Stanford Avenue along East Lakeshore Drive to May Street, the only work will be the wetland and vegetation fringe around the lake as well as improved pedestrian paths.
In general, there will be a focus on lighting along the paths to improve safety, using low-elevation lighting to avoid adding to light pollution.
“The plan has many, many things that we all want to do,” Spain said. “It has raised the price considerably, and we don’t know how we’re going to pay for it.”
A rough estimate to dredge the lakes and build the pathways is about $40 million, Spain said.
There is a possibility for some funding, though.
Although the state Legislature continues in the wrangling over how to find enough money for the budget, there is some tentative money set aside in the capital outlay budget for the lakes project. In total, there is $40 million included in the state’s capital outlay bill filed in April. The proposal includes $10 million this fiscal year and $30 million to be available for future construction.
While that’s not assured money, the fact that it’s included in the capital outlay bill means the project is closer to being a funded reality than it was a year ago. Currently, HB2 has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means.