Louisiana is a case study in fascinating political favors - stemming from professional lobbying.
One must wonder if it is, in fact, this bad in places not named Washington, D.C.
For instance, what was once a two-part narrative is now turning into a trilogy set to take down J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings.’
The Bayou epic would slide under the title of ‘The King of Baton Rouge Traffic.’
Part one features a bridge (to nowhere) which connects West Feliciana Parish to Pointe Coupee Parish, over the Mississippi River. It spans the ‘Father of Waters’ just south of St. Francisville.
Reports indicate that the $409 million project, completed in 2010, boasts about 3,400 vehicles per day.
For comparison, roughly 102,350 cars pass over the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge per day, along with 47,000 using the La. 1/U.S. 190 bridge just north of there.
How could something like that happen?
Well, Pointe Coupee and West Feliciana got together, paid a group of lobbyists a sum of money, and they went to work on the governor and the state’s legislators to convince them that the bridge was a good idea.
Their sales point? Other than political favor, there’s no single, agreed-upon answer but one has to imagine it was in preparation for a loop.
Why? Because just a year after the Audubon Bridge’s completion, the on-again, off-again talk of a loop started up... again.
Thus began part two of the narrative, which ended about as well as part one - disaster. There was a coalition against the loop, which caught fire and wouldn’t give up. Watson and Zachary banded together against a northern path, calling it detrimental to their communities.
Going south, while probably the best option, had become costly due to the crowded areas in Ascension Parish - buying up land would be, simply, too expensive.
Community-centric public figures in Baton Rouge fought the loop tooth-and-nail. Why? Simply put, case studies - namely Birmingham, Alabama.
Suburbs of the northern Alabama metropolis - Hoover, Mountain Brook, et al. - thrived after the bypass was completed. Meanwhile, people moved out of Birmingham - in such droves that the county in which the city sits went bankrupt in the early 2010s, the capstone on a slow deterioration.
Those who have worked hard to improve the Capitol’s curb appeal would be devastated to see a bypass send people around what they have labored to create.
Now, part three has begun. Talks of fixing the Baton Rouge traffic problem permeate the air, whispers of tackling the $13 billion DOTD backlog, including it’s $19 billion mega-project list, bounce around the legislative halls.
These rumors have not been lost upon the parish presidents of West Baton Rouge and Iberville Parishes. Iberville President J. Mitchell Ourso has hired a firm to lobby on behalf of the citizens of Iberville, who hope to obtain a bridge to connect their divided landscape, which straddles the Mississippi River.
To the north, West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley Berthelot has cried foul, saying that politics should not play a part in any new bridges, but rather data should help those to the west connect La. 1 to La. 30.
Locally, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks agreed with Berthelot, probably in the hopes that more bridges over the Amite from Livingston to East Baton Rouge will be built - mostly because the data shows that one or more of those projects would be a good idea, considering 70,000 cars use I-12, per day, alon - U.S. 190 and La. 37 into Central see plenty of volume, as well.
Unfortunately for those bridges crossing the Mighty Mississippi, without a loop they just aren’t worth it. If the Audubon Bridge is any indication, people are looking for other ways into, and around, Baton Rouge - not new ways to end up on the same crowded highways or bridges that lead to roads that aren’t designed to handle that amount of traffic.
But, a loop could destroy Baton Rouge’s economy - so maybe the Legislature and DOTD should focus on I-10 going to one lane, first.