With traffic being something of an obsession in Baton Rouge, the good news is that political leaders are tuned in to the issue. Unfortunately, just as much as in water-cooler conversations, everybody has a different idea of what’s most important.
Some want a loop on a route either north or south, others want new roads here or there, some want an expanded elevated Interstate through town — even leaving aside the question of limited funding for new major projects.
That’s why we are encouraged by the new transportation agenda pushed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and its CRISIS group, the Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions.
Quite a moniker, but industry is right to be concerned about congestion. The huge economic boost provided by the petrochemical industry in the metropolitan area also puts more pressure on transportation systems already overloaded. Industry is right to be concerned with its employees’ congested paths to work and the impact of every form of transportation on distributing its products, either by road or rail or water.
One of the key findings of the CRISIS study: Everybody needs to get together to decide what the most important projects are, by way of a “comprehensive regional mobility plan.”
While there is work going on by state and local agencies, a real key to planning is a truly comprehensive approach. In theory, road money is apportioned according to need, but so many streets and major highways are congested at rush hour in Baton Rouge that many new projects can be justified; we just can’t afford to build them all at once.
It’s vital that the agencies involved come together in a metropolitan plan because funding is not going to be there for an all-of-the-above list of road projects.
At the same time, getting more out of existing infrastructure — through public transit and through a regional commuter train to New Orleans — is part of the solution, so highway funding alone is not the answer.
“The region’s congestion problems are not limited to major thoroughfares but impact surface streets as well,” CRISIS’ statement said. “A long-term plan must also include strategies that increase transportation options, including improved street connectivity and multimodal alternatives to automobile travel.”
The group also sees the political importance of a unified program of work.
“For years the Baton Rouge region has watched as other areas of the state have received comparably much greater infrastructure investments, particularly toward their consensus highest priority projects,” the CRISIS statement said. “But conceivably, that has occurred precisely because they had such a consensus, while the Baton Rouge region has not.”
Major projects take time as well as money. The sooner a consensus transportation plan is achieved, the greater the likelihood we’ll see some relief on our roads.