Roughly 4,000 residents and business owners in the Moss Street area have signed a petition opposing a state plan to reduce a stretch of the road from four travel lanes to two, with a turning lane down the middle and bicycle lanes on each side.
State Department of Transportation and Development officials argue the project will reduce crashes and result in only minor delays, but business owners fear customers might shop elsewhere should the lane reductions lead to traffic headaches.
“Most of us are working-class people who never get a voice. I don’t know why it was pushed on us in this fashion,” said Karl Breaux, whose family owns Breaux’s Mart on Moss Street and who presented the petition to the Lafayette City-Parish Council at Tuesday’s meeting.
Breaux said the proposed lane reductions might hurt his business so much he would have to lay off employees from the long-standing neighborhood grocery store.
“We’re begging y’all to intercede on our behalf,” he said.
Still unclear is how much say local officials have, considering Moss Street is a state route and all the work would be done within the existing state-owned right-of-way.
But Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux said the petition should carry some weight.
“Four-thousand signatures speaks volumes,” he said. “The state officials, based on the conversations I’ve had, are certainly willing to sit down and listen.”
DOTD officials did not speak at the meeting, but agency spokeswoman Deidra Druilhet said earlier in the day that no decision has been made on whether the Moss Street project will move forward.
“We are still evaluating the whole concept,” she said.
Though city-parish government has not taken the lead on the project and has yet to take a formal stance on it, some city-parish staff had initially expressed support for the general idea.
The proposal would impact about 1.6 miles of Moss Street between Jefferson Boulevard and Alexander Street.
DOTD would restripe most of that section to carve out two travel lanes, a center turning lane and bike lanes — all in the space now occupied by four travel lanes, two in each direction.
The process is sometimes referred to as a “road diet” and is touted as a safety improvement on roads not considered to have enough traffic to necessitate four or more lanes.
A “road diet” project on La. 14 in Abbeville completed six years ago has reduced crashes by about 50 percent, according to figures from DOTD.
DOTD, at the request of city-parish government, is planning a similar project on the short section of Bertrand Drive between Johnston Street and College Drive, and Lafayette city-parish government has its own lane reduction project in the works for the four- and five-lane stretch of Congress Street skirting downtown, with plans to bring the road down to three lanes in that area and to add bike lanes and on-street parking in some areas.
The Bertrand and Congress projects have attracted little vocal opposition.
The plans for Moss Street, on the other hand, have ignited a firestorm.
Opponents packed into the City-Parish Council auditorium on Tuesday.
Critics said lane reductions would back up traffic and scare away customers, hampering growth in an area of town already struggling to attract quality developments.
“Taking a four-lane road and reducing it to two lanes will reduce the redevelopment of the northside,” said Herb Schilling, owner of Schilling Distributing on Moss Street. “Nobody talked to us. We just happened to read this in the paper.”
Despite the opposition, Tuesday’s meeting attracted two residents in support on the Moss Street project, both arguing the lane reductions would reduce crashes and make the route more friendly for bicyclists.
“It would make the road safe for all users of the road, the automobiles included in that statement,” said Jon Langlinais, with BikeLafayette.