Sharon Weston Broome is pledging to have at least 30% of the projects included in her $1 billion roads improvement project completed before the end of her current second term as mayor-president, and has made addressing the city-parish’s crime rate, health and wellness and quality of life as top priorities this year.
“It’s important for all of us to discuss and understand the wellness of our community—in terms of health, social factors, emotional and mental health, economics, and quality of place,” Broome said in her fifth annual "state of the city" address as East Baton Rouge's top official.
Her speech Wednesday, which she delivered virtually to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club because of the coronavirus, had an optimistic tone, even as the city-parish grapples with crime spikes and alarming virus infection rates.
One of the more optimistic parts of her address was an announcement that the city-parish would start 24 of the traffic capacity projects in her voter-approved MovEBR roads improvement plan and at least 44 corridor enhancement projects by the end of next year. She went on to say at least 30% of the projects in the plan would be done by 2024.
Upgrades expected to alleviate traffic flow along parts of Bluebonnet, Nicholson Drive and Jefferson Highway are among the 20 road improvement…
The nearly $1 billion worth of projects is being funded through by a 30-year, half-cent sales tax.
"This would be a $300 million capital expenditure on infrastructure improvements—not only improving our infrastructure but creating a huge stimulus in our local economy," Broome said. "And yes, in 2021, we will continue the rollout of our Light Synchronization program that we started last year, with the anticipated competition date of all 470 lights in 2023.”
Broome also claimed MovEBR will lead the way for inclusion of disadvantaged business enterprises, like those owned by minorities, women and veterans.
After her speech, the mayor was asked if she would take a cue from New Orleans LaToya Cantrell and roll the city-parish back to Phase 1 restrictions, since coronavirus infections rates are spiking both locally and nationally. Broome was coy, saying she would provide further insight at a scheduled news conference Thursday.
“We are not out of the woods as it relates to COVID-19 and the impact this pandemic is having on the community,” she said. “The governor just spoke yesterday and said we will remain in Phase 2. My desire is to see our city strengthen its compliance. I have very strong concerns with compliance and them not being taken seriously among members of our community.”
In her speech, Broome acknowledged the loss of nearly 600 city-parish residents during the pandemic and said her administration will continue its close partnership with local healthcare providers to increase testing and the rollout of vaccines.
Broome in her speech reiterated many of her administration's previously discussed goals and touched on her outreach initiative to address the city-parish's crime rate, which reached an historic spike last year against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
Broome acknowledged a report this week from The Advocate that highlighted at least 114 people who were killed last year in the city-parish.
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"While the Jan. 8 headline surrounding the homicides in our city is daunting, I encourage you to read the article in its entirety because the writers offer insight about the complexities of crime," Broome said. "These complexities mean there is no band-aid solution that will effectively end crime in our community."
She cast her Safe, Hopeful, Healthy Initiative as the solution to getting to the “root” issues of what causes crime — lack of access to education, food, healthcare, shelter and economic opportunity.
She said her Baton Rouge Community Street Team will take a community active approach, training outreach workers to reach out to youth to prevent cycles of violence and create neighborhood watches in high-crime areas to mediate conflicts and connect people with resources to improve their quality of life.
“We expect to see this begin as early as the second quarter of this year,” she said.
Lastly, Broome outlined a batch of smaller initiatives to address blight and litter. She also said she was rededicating herself to address systematic racism at the local level through recommendations from the commission she appointed last year, following the summer of intense protest around police reform.
“As we move into the future, I am increasingly aware of the need for continuous community input and conversation around the creation and implementation of equitable systems within our community,” she said.
With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday Broome added, “We will honor a man who advanced civil rights and social justice through non-violent protest— a stark contrast to the recent riot that took place at our nation’s Capital.”
When asked later what her administration has done to prevent similar incidents from happening in the city-parish, she said her office tried to keep “fluid lines” of communication open for those with concerns about what’s happening around the nation over the past year.