An interview with Tom Carroll of Lafayette's public works department _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Director of Public Works Tom Carroll Tuesday in Lafayette.

POSITION: Lafayette City-Parish Director of Public Works.

AGE: 61.

Tom Carroll is retiring May 30 from his position as the head of city-parish government’s Public Works Department. The Opelousas native is a University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduate in civil engineering and has served as director of public works since 2004. He has worked in the department since 1991.

What prompts the retirement?

It was just, I think, the right time for me. I’ve been doing this for quite a few years, and this is my 40th year out of college. I’ve been doing engineering for 40 years.

Any plans?

Not really. Probably sabbatical for the rest of this year. Catch up on a lot of things around the house. Play a little bit more golf. Attend to my grandkids a little more, and then next year start considering doing a little part-time work if the situation arises.

When you look back, are there any projects that stand out that you are particularly proud of?

If there are, it’s nothing I accomplished individually. You go back to the Camellia Boulevard Bridge (opened in 2003). That was, I guess, a 50-year project when you think that it was first talked about in 1956, and some of the major arterials that we have done. A multitude of road projects that we think are a little bit different because we started building boulevards in lieu of just building the five-lane sections.

Have there been some major shifts since you’ve been at the helm of public works?

Not really. One of the main things that I’ve impressed on the staff and the administration and the council that we really need to focus on is maintenance of what we’ve got. It’s nice and politically conducive to some of these guys to go out and build new roadways or build new facilities and new drainage projects. But there again, we’ve got a significant roadway system that we have to maintain, a significant drainage system that we have to maintain. We really, in my opinion, need to focus on maintenance in the coming years.

What do you see as the challenges for the next person in your job?

Unfortunately, finances are one of the main things that we need to talk about. You know, the expectations of people in Lafayette are very high, and that’s great. Nothing comes cheap nowadays. So often you’ve heard kind of a catch political phrase over the years, ‘We are going to do more with less.’ That’s not always easy to do. When you are talking about a crew that is going out there and digging a ditch or fixing a pothole in the road, it’s not done much differently than 40 years ago when I got out of college.

Do you see any public works issues that have to be addressed in the near term that are not being addressed now?

I think one of the things that is going to come up very shortly is a new bridge crossing (over the Vermilion River). In order to relieve Ambassador Caffery, and our traffic models show it, you are going to need another bridge crossing, and probably the location that would have the biggest impact is somewhere between Ambassador Caffery and La. 733, which is E. Broussard Road. We’ve got over 200 bridges in this parish. Many of those bridges are starting to age. We are going to get to the point where we are closing bridges down if we don’t have the money to rebuild those, and that’s a tremendous inconvenience to traffic if they have to start detouring, especially in the rural areas.

Richard Burgess