Highland at Lee.jpg

This is the intersection of Highland road at West Lee looking north back towards Perkins road.

Advcate staff photo by John Ballance

A former environmental engineer for East Baton Rouge Parish warns that Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's tax proposal for expanded streets and other road improvements may strain an inadequate drainage system.

"To add more streets to an already overburdened 61 year old drainage system is, at the very least, questionable in engineering terms. In everyday language, the cart is before the horse here," Bob Hearn wrote Sunday in an email to members of the Metro Council.

"I strongly urge each of you to consider very carefully the well being and safety of your constituents as you debate future actions on additional infrastructure," he wrote. "My experience tells me there is strong support in the community you serve for improvements to our drainage system, and doing it prior to adding more roads."

In an interview, Hearn said he doesn't object to the proposed work per se but that the parish needs to address drainage before it commits to adding more pavement.

City-parish roads and drainage chief Fred Raiford is sympathetic with Hearn's position.

"I truly understand his point. … I can't sit here and tell you, 'No that's not true what he said,'" Raiford said.

However, road improvements have to be addressed — and they're a public safety issue as well, he said.

Camille Manning-Broome, no relation to the mayor, takes solace in the fact the road improvements include plans for more curbs and gutters.

The Center for Planning Excellence vice president said her organization has been working with the city-parish to incorporate more drainage designs into East Baton Rouge infrastructure, whether though planting vegetation or laying asphalt that can drain more water so everything doesn't get funneled toward the canals.

Ken Perret, head of Good Roads Louisiana, said his group generally praises roads initiatives but will meet with city-parish leaders Thursday to discuss specifics before forming an opinion.

"We're generally supportive of any proposal to provide extra funding (for roads). We're so far behind," he said.

Hearn has argued that the "explosion" in population over the past few decades has required that service providers rethink how they plan to operate in Baton Rouge.

"You're just going to make the system worse" by adding roads without adding to the drainage capacity, he said.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.