ADDIS — Brusly Mayor Joey Normand said Wednesday he thinks it will take a statewide, voter-approved tax to generate the more than $1 billion in revenue state leaders estimate it will take to build another bridge across the Mississippi River.
Residents living in both East and West Baton Rouge parishes are convinced a new bridge is the best solution to the region’s traffic conundrum.
And Normand told members of the West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce its highly unlikely the parish’s own local traffic woes, which are a ripple effect from the daily back-ups happening on Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge, will be solved any time soon if parish leaders continue to wait for funding from the state or federal government.
“That money ain’t gonna fall from heaven,” Normand said at the Chamber’s first roundtable discussion with parish leaders Wednesday. “We need to put together a plan and ask voters, ‘How bad do you want this problem fixed?’ Then pass this tax.”
Normand quickly followed his suggestion to seek a tax with a reminder that he’s not seeking re-election after his term ends Dec. 31.
“So, I can make that statement and not have to worry if I’ll be able to get re-elected,” he quipped.
Normand’s comments came during a question-and-answer period of the roundtable discussion when a member challenged parish leaders to explain how they would attract new businesses given the traffic gridlock that plagues the area during peak commute times.
Normand was joined on the panel by Parish President Riley “PeeWee” Berthelot, Addis Mayor David Toups and Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee.
The I-10 traffic has been causing daily bumper-to-bumper delays along La. 1 in West Baton Rouge Parish for the past several years. So much so local industry have adjusted work shifts, and the school system even re-configured bus routes in response to the daily traffic headaches for employees and students.
According to 2013 Department of Transportation and Development traffic data, approximately 47,000 vehicles travel each day on La. 1 near the Intracoastal Waterway bridge in West Baton Rouge Parish. But only 24,573 people live in West Baton Rouge Parish, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Chamber members believe that until traffic clears up, the parish’s economy will be constricted because businesses won’t want to break ground in a parish were people can hardly drive around in a timely manner.
Other elected officials on the panel weren’t anxious to sign on to Normand’s suggestion to seek tax hikes to improve the road network. Instead, they said, residents will have to be patient and wait on revenue from either the state or federal government to address the issues.
But Berthelot said the proposed LA 1/I-10 Connector Project, which involves the construction of a toll road linking La. 415 to La. 1 in Port Allen, could become a reality soon now that it has advanced up the state DOTD’s priority funding list.
While the project wouldn’t do much to relieve traffic on the east side of the Mississippi River, it would give residents trying to commute between the parish’s northern and southern ends an alternative route besides the often congested Intracoastal bridge.
“We’re hoping something will happen with that in the next couple of years,” he said. “In the past, we really didn’t have a governor that stood up for transportation needs. Traffic is on Gov. (John Bel) Edwards’ list. I just don’t know how to speed up the process of getting the funds.”
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