Parish to post new, larger street signs _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- For the past year, Edward Prejean, holding a large Airline Highway sign, has led a team of volunteers in a community project to get highly visible, big street signs put up at major intersections in Ascension Parish. Thirteen intersections are the focus; each intersection requires multiple signs. There are about 50 of the signs, some 6 feet long, now in a parish building waiting to be put up as soon as weather permits.

In a few weeks, life will become a little simpler for drivers in Ascension Parish when 6 feet long street signs with letters 12 inches high are posted at some major intersections on state highways in the parish.

The street signs are a Leadership Ascension project.

The Ascension Chamber of Commerce sponsors the year-long program that asks teams of participants to develop projects to help the community.

“We tried to think of something to help the masses,” said Edward Prejean, the team member who spearheaded the street sign project.

Traffic came to mind.

Last summer, as the Leadership Ascension class kicked off, Prejean, like other drivers in the area, found himself sitting in traffic jams generated in large part by the leap in construction projects brought on by a recent boom in industrial expansion.

Prejean, who owns a computer consulting business, was finding that a trip from a plant in Geismar to a plant in Donaldsonville that used to take about 15 minutes was taking an hour on some days.

While Prejean and his Leadership Ascension team members couldn’t directly affect the speed or flow of traffic, the street signs —made to federal standards at a size recommended by the state Department of Transportation and Development —would be a boon to new drivers, seniors, tourists and temporary workers in the area.

A personal experience of Prejean’s was another impetus for the project, he said.

He was driving in Baton Rouge with his children more than 10 years ago, searching in vain for a street sign as he went through an intersection when the light turned red and another driver, coming across the intersection, struck his car.

Nobody was hurt, but the incident stayed with Prejean, especially because his children were with him at the time.

“Ever since then, when I see big, overhead street signs, I wish those kind of signs” had been there that day, Prejean said.

Prejean said studies show the large signs lead to improved traffic and a reduction in rear-end collisions.

“We’ve done a lot of research,” Prejean said.

Work began in the fall on the project, beginning with a permitting process with the State Department of Transportation and Development for signs at 12 state highway intersections in the unincorporated areas of the parish and the municipalities of Donaldsonville, Gonzales and Sorrento.

All of the signs — four are required at each of the 12 intersections for drivers from every direction — are expected to be posted by the end of June.

Parish public works employees will install the signs 18 feet off the ground on the side of the intersections’ traffic light poles.

“The parish really appreciates what Leadership Ascension does,” said Lester Kenyon, public information officer for the parish. “They continuously present projects that obviously have a lot of hard work and planning invested in them.”

In addition to the new signs, some of the projects that have come out of Leadership Ascension include a fully furnished house where people affected by a house fire can stay for several days; a mobile kitchen that provides meals for emergency responders during a disaster; and a portable oxygen trailer to help home-bound residents during power outages, Kenyon said.

Even though the Leadership Ascension class of 2015 ends the first week in June, the project will continue to bring signs to more intersections in the parish, Prejean said.

“What I love about the project is it affects every single person in Ascension Parish and those who are just passing through,” said Tracey Zimmerman, another Leadership Ascension team member.

Other team members are Ethan Babin, Christy Burnett, Justin Champlin, James Flanagan, Donna Gaignard and Jada Kerek Mayon.

The initial project for the 12 intersections and 48 signs, which were made in Alabama, cost $10,000.

Gonzales recently contributed $2,500, and through sponsorships, donations and fundraisers, the project team has raised about $6,000 to pay for the signs, said Prejean, who created a website called snap2015.org.

The acronym stands for Street Naming Ascension Parish.

“It’s really good to have a partnership in something,” said Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa.

The city, he said, joined with a nonprofit organization to open Kidz Kove Discovery Park, a park for children of all abilities.

“And now, we have a partner in the signs project. It’s good for the business people and the city and for emergency responders,” Matassa said.

“We like the idea, because it’s safety, No. 1,” Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on June 4 to correct Jada Kerek Mayon’s name.