GONZALES — Delia Phillips says she can see the traffic starting to pile up on Henry Road in Prairieville when she gets up before daylight every morning.
"Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, here comes the cars," she said.
Phillips, 80, was among Ascension residents who trekked to Lamar-Dixon Expo Center outside Gonzales Tuesday afternoon to review a proposed long-term transportation master plan for fast-growing Ascension Parish.
Phillips went with her lifelong friend, JoAnn Dawson, and both wanted to share a few of their own ideas for fixing the parish's vexing traffic problems.
Phillips grew up on Henry Road when it was a country lane and still lives on land that was homesteaded in 1898 by her great-grandfather, the namesake for the road.
But now the narrow road has become a cut-through while the state widens La. 42 to the north and is clogged with a stream cars, heavy trucks and school buses. They eventually empty onto congested La. 73, where, Phillips said, traffic seems to coming from several directions at once.
That artery — La. 73 — needs something in addition to Henry Road, she said.
Parish officials, along with consultants looking at Ascension's road problems, were on hand Tuesday to solicit what residents see as major transportation needs. Parish officials plan to incorporate the final transportation plan into a land use plan also under development.
The parish’s consultants noted that Ascension is in the top 20 parishes in Louisiana in total local road crashes annually. Ascension also has 62 at-grade railroad crossings that create the “opportunity for severe crashes,” a master plan pamphlet says.
Participants were invited to write their ideas on adhesive notes and stick them on display boards set up inside the Lamar-Dixon gym.
The ideas included some often-suggested concepts, such as adding two more lanes to two-lane La. 621 between I-10 and La. 431; creating an internal parish "loop" by upgrading existing highways like La. 42 and La. 431; and building an I-10 interchange with on- and off-ramps at Bluff Road.
Timmy Brignac, who lives in the Lake Martin area in the far northeastern corner of Ascension and travels across the parish daily to work a plant on the Mississippi River, said new crossings over Bayou Manchac and the Amite River would improve access in and out of the parish.
He said the parish should look at extending La. 44 north from La. 42 and tying it into Hoo Shoo Too Road in East Baton Rouge Parish.
"You can see on the other side (of Manchac), the cars passing, but you can't make it there," he said. "Where I live, I can hear an outboard motor in French Settlement, but I can't make it there. I got to drive all the way around Port Vincent, around the world, to get over there, you know."
The transportation master plan is an outgrowth of the parish’s $35 million Move Ascension road program. That program is already tackling smaller scale projects targeted for construction in early 2019. They include widening the existing lanes on Henry Road by Phillips and a series of intersection upgrades on La. 73.
Jeffrey Burst, a senior project manager with parish consultant, HNTB, said his firm will combine residents’ concerns with the needs already developed by the consultants to come up with proposed solutions. Those will be brought back to the public in November, with a priority list of project and possible funding strategies expected to be presented too the Parish Council early next year.
Phillips said she is ready for work to start after seeing years of big plans from successive parish administrations.
She said her family has joked with her that, at 80, she may not live to see the day when work on Henry and La. 73 is finished.
“But I’m (going to) work real hard to stay alive long enough to see everything,” Phillips quipped.