While Tuesday's election was in full swing, Sharon Weston Broome set her sights on Dec. 8.

That's when East Baton Rouge voters will decide whether to endorse the East Baton Rouge mayor-president’s $912 million tax to widen roads, synchronize traffic signals and otherwise upgrade the parish's traffic infrastructure.

She presented the 30-year, half-cent sales tax to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber over lunch. It was a home-field crowd for Broome; BRAC has already thrown its support behind the proposal.

BRAC President Adam Knapp reiterated that, when surveyed, the business community has consistently said that improving traffic infrastructure is necessary to improve the local economy. “It’s critical” that the tax passes next month, he said.

“We’re going to be all in to make sure voters are aware … and the importance of this,” Knapp said.

Meeting attendees mostly asked about how to proselytize on behalf of the measure, known as MovEBR.

Parish transportation and drainage director Fred Raiford said now that the November elections are winding down, voters should expect to start seeing MovEBR signs, advertisements and even advocates going door-to-door with literature. He also said he'd lean on the business community to help spread the word.

Broome said that, during her decades in the state Legislature, she always heard of a desire to build an interstate loop around Baton Rouge. It was only ever talk — no action. She said the parish must make a decisive move to get roads projects off the ground and pitched MovEBR as the best vehicle to do so.

“This is a very voluminous but effective plan,” Broome said.

This is her second attempt to pass a roads tax. A previous effort stalled out when the Metro Council refused to put a property millage on a ballot. Broome said since then she’s heard greater support for a sales tax, as commuters would also pitch in. One council member worried a sales tax would disproportionately affect lower-income households, but enough of the council gave the new version their blessing and sent it on to the electorate.

The sales tax would raise about twice as much as the property tax. Most of the projects from the first iteration of the plan carried over. Major work includes improvements to Airline Highway, widening roads around Central and building a new Interstate 10 exchange with a widened Pecue Lane. A full list of projects and a map is available at movebr.net.

Much of Tuesday’s presentation resembled previous pitches for MovEBR. Raiford came armed with projections from LSU economist Stephen Barnes and models from the Metropolitan Planning Organization: congestion currently adds 47 hours of delay per year for the average commuter at an additional fuel cost of $1,300; at present, 231,000 people can reach the River Center downtown within fifteen minutes, but the number would rise to 431,000 if the plan is implemented; MovEBR will save $111 million in overall lost time per year.

He did anticipate some opposition to the plan. For one, residents don’t want to spend $40 million to synchronize traffic signals.

“That’s the one I get beat up for the most,” he said.

However, Baton Rouge is behind the times and needs to link its 400 or so signals to move traffic along more swiftly, he argued.

Critics have also wondered if a new tax will sour voters on future efforts to raise money for a new Mississippi River Bridge.

“Do we need a new bridge? Absolutely we do,” Raiford said.

But if a new bridge ever is built, then East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Iberville parishes will need local roads capable of handling the load so bridge traffic doesn’t wind up stalling out as soon as drivers cross the river, Raiford contended. He believes that plans to widen Nicholson Drive will help to that end.


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.