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Construction work carries on to replace the sidewalks along the south side of Government Street near S. Eugene during a press conference to discuss the Government Street road diet, Wednesday, February 14, 2018, in front of Baton Rouge High on Government Street in Baton Rouge, La.

When it comes to the city-parish's infrastructure, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome touts projects and initiatives that started her under administration as the relief the community needs to address issues surrounding traffic and frequent flash flooding. 

But the opponents looking to block her attempt at a second term aren't convinced she's done enough to tackle the parish's infrastructure needs.

Some of them lack confidence her administration can even properly oversee the multi-million-dollar road improvement and drainage projects on tap for the future. One challenger asserts the 30-year sales tax Broome promoted for roads improvement and the federal funding secured for flood mitigation projects all happened because others did the real work behind the scene, not her.

Broome's challengers in the Nov. 3 elections are Republicans Metro Councilman Matt Watson, businessman Jordan Piazza, newcomer Frank Smith III, and former state Rep. Steve Carter. Also in the race are Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Democrat, and Baton Rouge attorney E Eric Guirard, an independent. 

Six of the candidates are set to appear at a candidate forum Tuesday presented by The Advocate in partnership with Louisiana Public Broadcasting. The event will be livestreamed beginning at 10 a.m. on The Advocate and LPB websites.

East Baton Rouge road improvements on the way after voters pass 30-year sales tax

"Anybody who is trying to discredit what happened with the passage of MovEBR doesn't understand leadership," Broome said. "The mayor is the convener of people and groups. I convened and brought people together; put together a coalition. I did that. That's what leadership is about." 

The 2018 passage of the half-cent sales tax funding Broome's 30-year roads improvements and infrastructure plan, MovEBR, was a positive turning point after a rocky start to her first term.

Then in 2019, Broome announced she helped secure $65 million in local matching funds the city-parish needed to utilize $225 million in federal funding for dredging and widening five main drainage canals in the parish to address frequent flash flooding during and after heavy rain.

And in July, she announced the city-parish would receive more than $80 million in federal funds for stormwater management and that work on the long-gestating $15 million Stormwater Master Plan should wrap up by the end of the year, providing what officials say will serve as the bible for future flood mitigation projects.

"We've got the resolutions right here; there will be relief," she said. "(but) these projects aren't going to happen overnight. We have a schedule and we're looking at everything we do, and we're looking at data to make sure we are doing things that will have a lasting impact." 

Watson compares those accomplishments to a kid in high school who slacked off all semester and is now cramming for the final exam. 

Major drainage project announced for East Baton Rouge; 'help is indeed on the way'

He chides the Broome administration for not keeping up with routine maintenance on the city-parish's drainage system, which he blames for frequent flooding in neighborhoods like the Garden District, where residents have storm water encroach upon their homes multiple times a year. 

"I'm offering organization; coming out with a plan to do things in the right order," Watson said. "Right now we have a mayor that hasn't been doing much of anything. We're running around putting Band-Aids on things. That's no way to fix a municipality." 

East Baton Rouge stormwater master plan awaits federal funding: 'We're stagnated right now'

Watson credited U.S. Rep. Garret Graves as the instrumental figure behind securing the federal funding for the flood control project, not Broome, and went on to assert that MovEBR is a great plan that was brainstormed by the prominent business leaders that stomped alongside Broome to get the tax passed. 

"They understood we would have to go with a sales tax and put the onus on everyone who would use the roads," he said. "That was smarter than the 5-mill property tax originally pitched by the administration."

Broome's 2017 Better Transportation and Roads property tax, which pitched more than 40 projects designed to alleviate traffic congestion, synchronize lights and pave sidewalks, never made its way to voters since the Metro Council shot it down. 

Poor maintenance of the city-parish's drains and canals was a common theme many of the other opponents shared with Watson.  

Carter believes privatizing public works could be a better solution since the city-parish has expressed difficulties with filling vacancies within the transportation and drainage departments due to low wages. The former state representative also feels the city-parish isn't moving fast enough with the rollout of the MovEBR projects.

"We're dragging our feet and it's horrible," he said. "Have they even prioritized the projects yet so we know we're getting the best bang for our bucks? I know this stuff takes time, but we need to move on that."

Marcelle doesn't find the projects outlined in Broome's MovEBR plan equitable enough, meaning she'd like to see more improvements happening in the North Baton Rouge area. But overall, she thinks things are moving in the right direction. 

However, she's pushing to shake-up public works by bringing William Daniel back, the former chief administrative officer for Kip Holden, to lead that department. 

"That would be my first thing," she said. "He was doing a great job and had a wealth of knowledge — more knowledge than two or three people in her administration currently."

Marcelle has previously said she'd push for a bus rapid transit system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a new bridge over the Mississippi River and more public-private partnerships to pull off proposals like the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal Mobility Plan, a high-speed toll road that would have created a new path around an often-congested Baton Rouge.

Relying on toll roads through public-private partnerships to fund the large-scale infrastructure needs is something Piazza leans towards as well. 

"In Florida and Texas, a lot of highways don't get built until you put a toll on it," he said. "We need to carry that same type of mentality. We passed that billion-dollar plan because we all agreed we have issues. But I don't think the plan addresses the concerns we really have."

Piazza, like many local officials, wants a new bridge over the Mississippi River and an interstate loop around the Baton Rouge Metro Area, a project that died under Holden's administration.

"Because we elect these career politicians who don't have real solutions to address this vicious cycle, we don't see change," he said. "But around election time, everyone wants to talk about success. But I don't think anyone can say infrastructure, roads, drainage or schools are any better."

Guirard shares the belief that MovEBR won't address the parish's needs when it comes to traffic mitigation. He's offering a more "imaginative" approach by adding more feeder roads in and out of busy thoroughfares like College Drive, Essen Lane and Siegen Lane at the Interstate 10 exit ramps. 

"It's a complex myriad of confusion," he said, referring to the Siegen Lane exit off Interstate 10. "There aren't enough lanes. The signage is wrong. Light sequences are bad. I suggest getting citizens involved in the brainstorming process for solutions."

Guirard is also looking to make administrative changes within the transportation and drainage departments, another area he wants to infuse with innovative ideas.

"I'd like to see us requiring more retention capabilities in these newer and old developments, where water can't escape off properties and subdivisions and inundate the overall (drainage) system," he said.  "We also need to look into an advanced pumping system. Something that diverts all the water to the Mississippi River, which could handle it." 


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com