While he stood in a church Thursday that flooded with 2 feet of water last August, city-parish Director of Transportation and Drainage Fred Raiford tried to explain why City Hall is pushing for a roads tax as people bombarded him with questions about drainage.
Raiford made one of his first pitches to the public Thursday on Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's proposed "Better Transportation and Roads" tax initiative. He spoke to a group of residents in north Baton Rouge, many of them flood-weary, at the newly rebuilt United Christian Faith Ministries.
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Broome has proposed a 5-mill property tax for 43 projects to widen roads, lessen congestion and improve mobility for people across Baton Rouge. About $445.5 million generated from the tax would go toward the projects, while her administration is also asking voters to rededicate a half-cent sales tax to pay for more street overlays, road repairs and debt from bonds.
Raiford spoke of the importance of widening Mickens Road from Hooper Road to Lanier Drive, as the street is one of the best-known in the Metro Council district where the Thursday meeting was hosted. The $15 million Mickens improvement would give the road three lanes with sidewalks.
Mickens is unsafe in its current form, without any sidewalks, given the number of schools and churches in the area, Raiford said.
Theresa Haynes, who attended the meeting, said she plans to vote for the tax because traffic is atrocious. She moved to Baton Rouge from Germany, where she was completing U.S. military service, and said one of the culture shocks has been the lack of bike-friendly roads in Baton Rouge.
"When I moved here, I could not believe that Baton Rouge — as a capital city — did not have better traffic," she said.
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Raiford said sidewalks and bike paths are an important component of the BTR plan, as $36.5 million from the tax will be dedicated to those sorts of improvements. He also said the city-parish is doing a review of how compliant its current walkways are with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
Walter Thomas, who attended the meeting, asked about a long-hoped for project to widen Sherwood Forest Boulevard from Choctaw Drive to Greenwell Springs Boulevard. The project was not on the list for BTR.
But Raiford assured him the federal funding to widen Sherwood Forest is already in place, and work will begin once the city-parish finishes acquiring properties.
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Several attendees talked about their headaches with flood recovery, and said they were worried about drainage. They asked Raiford about cleaning out ditches and how the workers under him determine which projects are most important.
Raiford said the city will soon commission a stormwater master plan, which should give the desired guidance on how to improve drains and ditches in Baton Rouge. He also said the city-parish should soon have the results of a study showing which roadways were affected by the floods and that City Hall will ask for federal money to repair them.
The BTR tax proposal is still in its early phases. The Metro Council is expected to vote Sept. 13 on whether to place the tax on the Nov. 18 ballot. Raiford said he expects to soon start holding two public meetings a week to sell voters on the specifics of the plan.
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The property tax would be in effect for 30 years, being collected from 2018 to 2047. The rededication of the half cent sales tax would last until 2030. Homeowners in Baton Rouge with $200,000 properties that are homestead exempt would pay about $62.50 annually for the 5-mill property tax.