Our Views: Bad traffic, dangerous commutes no surprise for Baton Rouge drivers

The Advocate

To paraphrase a great movie line, we don’t need no stinkin’ statistics to know that Baton Rouge is one of the worst towns in America to drive in.

But the reports keep coming in, and the frustration and the wrecks keep piling up.

A recent report ranked Baton Rouge the second-most dangerous city for drivers, after no less of an urban mess than Detroit.

Detroit. Think about that.

A business group agitating for transportation improvements in the region does not lack for numbers, that’s for sure. The Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions, or CRISIS, says the report from financial services firm Nerdwallet points out the problems with being behind only Detroit.

“Yet another report has independently verified what Baton Rouge area drivers unfortunately already know based on experience, which is that our roads are not only the worst in the state but among the worst in the nation for traffic congestion, road conditions and now safety for drivers, according to this new study,” said Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of CRISIS.

A 2015 report from Texas A&M Transportation Institute found Baton Rouge ranked third-worst for average annual commuter traffic delay among mid-size cities, and 11th worst in the nation for road conditions.

The CRISIS coalition, organized by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, is one of the voices pushing for change in the transportation landscape of the region. While CRISIS had agitated for earlier attention to transportation funding — the gasoline tax has not been increased for decades — Gov. John Bel Edwards did not include the tax in his calls for special sessions of the Legislature this year.

The governor’s view, reasonably enough, is that the current state fiscal crisis in the operating budget must first be addressed. A gasoline tax increase can constitutionally only be spent in the transportation trust fund.

Edwards, though, has backed some small adjustments to prevent raiding of the transportation funds for other uses, and he has established a task force to propose solutions for the 2017 Legislature to consider.

Kirkpatrick thanked Edwards for establishing the “much-needed” task force.

But as everyone involved in these issues knows, traffic is a big-ticket problem, no pun intended. Costs for major highway improvements go into the hundreds of millions of dollars very easily, and the state’s obligations extend far beyond the immediate region of Baton Rouge.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, voters have been taxing themselves to push ahead with road improvements as the state work has lagged. The 2005 Green Light plan backed by Mayor-President Kip Holden was a big step forward, but as the new statistics show, it is not sufficient.

Louisiana as a whole needs more funding for its infrastructure, including highways and bridges and roads and rails, but the demand in Baton Rouge remains particularly acute.

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