Developer looks to expand industrial park in Ascension, but concerns voiced about traffic, drainage _lowres

 

New Roads land developer L.J. Grezaffi is eyeing a major expansion to his Ascension Parish industrial park at the northeast corner of La. 30 and La. 73, near the parish’s Mississippi River industrial belt in Geismar.

Known as Ascension Commerce Center, the park has become home to industrial service businesses that line the two state highways.

Grezaffi now has plans to expand into the 345-acre interior of his park, plans show, but has run into snags over traffic and drainage after the new phases faced possible denial by the Ascension Parish Planning Commission last week.

The commission staff had refused to recommend approval over the project’s traffic and drainage plans, so it was deferred.

“There are just too many unanswered questions,” Commissioner Robert Burgess said Friday.

But Deric Murphy, an engineer who presented Grezaffi’s project before the commission Thursday night, said Friday that backers hope to meet with parish staff, state highway officials and others to provide answers to their questions.

“It’s really no big deal. We’re going probably get everyone together and work with them in the next couple of weeks and be on the next (commission) agenda,” he said.

The traffic questions underscore a common issue in Ascension about the degree of responsibility one developer should bear for adding traffic to already backed-up roads in the parish.

According to Grezaffi’s plans, he intends to extend the park’s Industrial Drive, which ties into La. 30 but dead-ends, and extend it around to La. 73, where a new entrance will be built.

Grezaffi also plans a series of turn lanes in and out of both park entrances.

What came into focus before the commission Thursday night, though, is that the busy intersection of La. 30 and La. 73 is rated an F for service. Grezaffi’s park would increase traffic volumes by 11 percent at the intersection once the park’s new phases are fully built in probably 10 years or more.

Grezaffi’s traffic study estimated the new addition to Ascension Commerce Center will produce 5,000 trips per day at full build-out, parish engineer Bob Turner said.

The La. 30 area has seen several major plant expansions the past several years, and some industrial groups are lobbying the state to widen major highways, like La. 30, that serve industrial zones.

Grezaffi’s engineers found a roundabout at La. 30-La. 73 would improve the intersection’s rating from an F to an A.

Grezaffi consulting traffic engineer Nick Ferlito estimated that the roundabout, which is a continuous-flow, circular intersection without traffic lights, could cost as much as $4 million.

Parish staff said the new park entrance Grezaffi plans to build on La. 73 would immediately be rated an F once it is built due to expected backups of vehicles that can’t get on La. 73 because of steady highway traffic.

Ferlito said state highway officials won’t install traffic lights at the future La. 73 intersection until the need is demonstrated

Murphy said Friday that while he and others plan to discuss solutions for the future La. 73 intersection, Grezaffi does not plan to build an La. 73-La. 30 roundabout. He contended that Grezaffi only had to study the impact on the La. 73-La. 30 intersection under parish requirements.

“It’s not the developer’s responsibility to fix existing issues as far as that,” Murphy said.

Planning Director Ricky Compton, however, read out commission rules Thursday suggesting the commissioners have some ability to get assistance from Grezaffi.

The rules list options the commission may require a developer to take when a project worsens a road’s traffic. One option includes contributing funding toward improvements.

Compton, who said the rules are not in ordinance, said the rules would be something to consider if the project comes back in 30 days and studies still show the La. 30-La. 73 intersection and the future La. 73 entrance have F ratings.

Some commissioners questioned the strength of the rule, however.

“I didn’t hear that it shall require traffic improvements. It says, ‘We may require (developers) to do improvements,’ in the first paragraph,” Commissioner Matt Pryor said.

“Right,” Compton responded, “you also don’t have to approve it.”

Commissioner Gasper Chifici then suggested Murphy defer a vote for 30 days, which he promptly requested and got.

“Smart man,” Burgess told Murphy.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.