With the first phase of the Baton Rouge Loop’s environmental study complete and another public comment deadline approaching, the Livingston Parish Council will consider on Thursday voicing opposition — again — to the proposed project.
The Parish Council has twice opposed the 90- to 105-mile, $4.5 billion toll-funded beltway that would pass through five metropolitan Baton Rouge parishes. Those resolutions, in November 2011 and January 2012, bookended a parish election cycle to provide comments for an earlier draft of the environmental study.
A Watson-area grass-roots organization, Neighbors In Action, asked the council to consider another vote of nonsupport Thursday, after the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development released the final version of the study in late December.
The public comment period closes Feb. 22.
“There is no question in Livingston Parish that we need improved roadways, but this is bad government in the worst sense,” Gene Baker, of the citizens’ group, said of the proposed loop.
The group’s concerns include the preferred corridor for the northern section. The northern corridor arcs from Interstate 12 east of Walker to a new Amite River crossing north of Magnolia Bridge Road, then dips below Central and winds its way to the U.S. 190 bridge before connecting with I-10 west of Port Allen.
That route would narrowly miss the Livingston Parish Industrial Park at Walker, cross several neighborhoods, including Acadiana Place off La. 16 north of Denham Springs, and approach the Amite River just north of Amite Church Road and its namesake Baptist church.
But the route is only one of many concerns, Baker said.
The group also disagrees with the public-private partnership that would fund the project, the use of now-years-old traffic and construction cost data to demonstrate feasibility and the Capital Area Expressway Authority’s continued push on the proposal despite three of its five parish presidents resigning from the board, he said.
According to the study, the three unrepresented parishes — Ascension, Livingston and Iberville — would be brought back on board before construction of any portion of the tollway begins.
“To me, it’s a boondoggle that’s putting more good money down a project with no feasibility,” Baker said. “I’m all for a profit for private money, but not at the loss of the public side and the taxpayer. The taxpayers are going to be the loser in this, and it doesn’t even come close to meeting our traffic needs.”
Baker said the $1.8 billion proposed for the Livingston Parish portion alone would be better spent improving existing roads and bridges to alleviate local traffic snarls that contribute to the interstate delays.
Councilman Garry Talbert, who placed the item on Thursday’s agenda at Baker’s request, agreed.
“Something like 70 percent of the traffic is local,” Talbert said. “If we improve the surface streets, and if Hooper was four lanes into Watson and that tied into La. 63 and went to Ascension, then, in essence, we would create a loop without spending tons of money and bringing in private investors whose profit we’d have to guarantee.”
Baker said Neighbors In Action is working to secure statements of opposition to the loop from Livingston Parish boards and officials, although he said there may not be enough time to gather as many as the 3,500 signatures collected in 2012.
“It’s kind of offensive to me that we went to the extreme effort we did before to get well-founded comments and they didn’t even consider them, and now they’re saying the law requires them to get more comments,” Baker said. “We don’t have very much time, but we’ve got a good start on it.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.