LIVINGSTON — A vote to bring another road into the parish’s maintenance system exposed a rift among the Livingston Parish Council, as officials struggle to stretch funding for improvements.
Councilman John Wascom successfully lobbied his colleagues on April 14 to bring Connelly Court, a residential road off Old River Road in Denham Springs, into the parish maintenance system, even though it is shorter than parish regulations require and the council members did not know whether it met the proper construction standards for adoption.
The current standards were adopted in 2009, after a voter-led initiative forced the parish government to require more than two addressed buildings on a road to bring it into the system. The regulations now require at least five homes along the road and set minimum standards for right-of-way width, road length and construction design. The ordinance also requires that the road’s right-of-way be dedicated to the parish.
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The Parish Council voted 6-3 to waive those requirements for adopting Connelly Court into the parish maintenance system.
The vote followed a lengthy debate on the wisdom of accepting responsibility for substandard roads that could place a heavier financial burden on the parish.
Adding a road to the parish maintenance system puts it in line for routine patch and repair work by the parish’s Department of Public Works at taxpayer expense.
It also paves the way for the road to be added to the parish’s overlay priority list — an ever-growing list of roads that parish officials want to resurface using funds from a dedicated ¾-cent sales tax and annual allocations from the state’s Parish Transportation Fund.
With more than 800 miles of roadway in Livingston Parish and only enough money to resurface about 10 miles in any given year, the competition for placement on the priority list can be fierce. Those roads in the worst condition, while serving the most people, are typically given the highest priority for overlay work, but even smaller, less traveled roads sometimes find their way onto the list.
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Wascom said he was not asking to have Connelly Court added to the priority list or repaved.
“It’s blacktopped already. It’s just never been in the maintenance system, so the parish hasn’t been able to repair any potholes or do any basic maintenance on it,” he said.
Councilman Garry Talbert, of Watson, said he wondered if the parish would be better off just repairing the potholes, without taking on full responsibility for the road.
But parish legal adviser Christopher Moody said that would mean spending taxpayer money on a private road, which violates the state constitution.
Councilman R.C. “Bubba” Harris suggested another option.
Clear Lake Subdivision, off Juban Road, has private roads that were maintained by the developer until he died, Harris said. Now, Harris and the residents are working with an engineer to develop a cost estimate for bringing the subdivision’s roads up to parish standards.
“The people may vote a tax in on themselves to redo this road and bring it to parish standards so it can be brought into the parish system, and then we could continue the maintenance on it,” Harris said.
Councilman Shane Mack, of Albany, applauded that solution but said it would not work for shorter roads like Connelly Court or Tiger Lane, which Mack successfully lobbied to bring into the maintenance system in March. Both roads serve only seven homes apiece.
“It would really work if you had a ton of houses on a road where you could collect a lot of funds, but when you’ve got seven people, those people will never be able to put a program together, will never be able to pay to bring that road up to standard,” Mack said.
Moody said he understands that rejecting substandard roads is politically unpopular, but he recommended against taking those roads into the parish maintenance system.
“It’s been done hundreds of times, if not thousands of times, in this parish,” Moody said. “But your ordinance is a good one. It’s going to protect your resources. You just don’t have the resources to pave all the roads, so your way to battle that is to make sure they’re up to your standards before you bring them in. Because at the rate they’re building subdivisions, in about 10 or 15 years, you’re going to have way more roads to deal with.”
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He also urged the council to ensure that any road it adopted was legally dedicated to the parish.
“Once you’ve maintained it for three years, it becomes a public road, but technically, you’re supposed to have it dedicated to the public first because otherwise you’re working on a private road,” he said.
Wascom and Mack were joined by councilmen Tracy Girlinghouse, Maurice “Scooter” Keen, Jeff Averett and Tab Lobell in voting to accept Connelly Court into the parish maintenance system. Talbert, Harris and Jeff Ard voted against it.