Amalfi Cove – Setting the Record Straight in District 9

Ross Berthelot (s)mugging for the camera (September 2016)

Traffic was the main issue in denial of my proposed Amalfi Cove subdivision off Roddy Road in December. Concerns about a proposed traffic signal at the Roddy and Black Bayou intersection chief among them. Instead of appealing a plan that the commissioners (following Councilman Lambert’s lead) didn’t want, I opted to meet with Parish officials, Council members, and the Planning Staff to come up with a better solution than the traffic light. That solution would have to make it through the Transportation Committee first, and then the proposed subdivision could go back to Planning for a new approval hearing.

The Roundabout (RAB) is that better solution, but it’s expensive. A safety widening project is already on the books for this intersection, though, and so monies and rights-of-way are allocated for this intersection already. So, I offered a plan to contribute double the normal rate of impact fees generated by my proposed subdivision so that a RAB could be built at the intersection instead of merely the safety widening proposed there. That’s approximately $275,000 in impact fees plus another $275,000 contributed by me = $550,000 in private funds (not taxpayer funds) for transportation infrastructure improvements in this area.

I contended that if we took the monies currently slated to be spent on the MOVE ASCENSION Safety Widening of Roddy at Black Bayou, and add to that my proposed $550,000+/- traffic impact fee contribution, the total amount of funds available would be enough to build a full RAB at the intersection (instead of ONLY the safety widening). If that total amount wasn’t enough to pay for the RAB, then “let’s figure out the shortfall”. Perhaps I could make up part, or all of, the difference? The Parish couldn’t even tell me how much the widening project would cost, but my first offer of $550,000+/- towards the RAB was definitely one that could have been negotiated, had the Transportation Committee and the District Councilman Todd Lambert been truly serious about traffic improvements.

President Matassa, CAO Ken Dawson, Councilman Lawler, Councilwoman Casso, Councilman Johnson, and representatives from MOVEASCENSION, DOTD, and Planning Staff all appeared to be proponents of my RAB cost-sharing plan. There were two meetings and various phone calls with these participants and others that led me to believe we had a smart plan to present to the Transportation Committee that would work for EVERYONE in the Parish.

With a RAB, the Parish would get a HUGE traffic enhancement to the area; the Existing Condition at the Black Bayou and Roddy intersection Northbound and Eastbound is at a “D” level in the PM currently, and that is WITHOUT my proposed Amalfi Cove development. Indeed, many of the Planning Commissioners – and Councilman Todd Lambert himself – decried the terrible traffic on Roddy and at the intersection during my December Planning Commission denial.

The RAB would bring ALL the AM and PM traffic counts to “A” levels at ALL approaches at ALL HOURS of the day (WITH my proposed 105 lot Amalfi Cove development), and would set the Parish up for the infrastructure needs of the future in this district and beyond. A RAB or alternative traffic improvements WILL BE NEEDED HERE at some point in the not too distant future; no one at any of our meetings denied that fact.

So, I watched the Transportation Committee meeting a couple weeks ago, when my proposed cooperation / partnership with the Parish for constructing a RAB was being introduced on the Agenda. I saw Councilman Lambert still talking about non-valid drainage concerns (ALL concerns were mitigated per approved engineering plans at the more stringent 25 year storm event threshold, and would also comply with the new Fill Ordinance). I saw one family comprise the majority of the people speaking out Against the RAB. Only one other family there was noted to be Against the RAB proposal. That means there were 2 total families against the idea, plus Councilman Lambert, at this meeting in opposition. There was then some mis-information relayed through Councilman Dawson about the costs and right-of-way acquisition needs, some further misinformation about drainage, and then Councilman Lambert “took his stand” and made a motion to deny any partnership plan for traffic improvements at this intersection.

I have been told that Councilman Lambert’s district has not seen a new subdivision development in years, possibly as long as Councilman Lambert has been in office (19 years… and counting?). It seems that everyone in Ascension Parish complains about traffic and drainage, and yet when the Parish is offered a viable solution to these problems in a long-term manner that will help the entire district and Parish for years to come, AND AT POTENTIALLY NO ADDED COST TO THE PARISH, they can’t get out of their own way to get it accomplished.

Here I have a proposed subdivision that (1) Would improve traffic for the entire area, and (2) Can hold MORE water in back flow flooding scenarios than can currently be held on the vacant land that the vocal minority are dead set against seeing be developed. Wouldn’t that extra water storage capacity HELP the district, and the Parish as a whole? The neighboring family to the north ALREADY HAS TO SANDBAG multiple times per year! Councilman Lambert said so himself at the Transportation Committee meeting. My proposed subdivision would ADD WATER STORAGE that could alleviate that routine flooding for them and many others in that area who are fearful of Black Bayou every time it rains. Why wouldn’t someone be willing to explain that to his constituents (or at least be willing to take the time to understand the engineering for himself)? Engineering is based on math and facts, it is not an opinion.

Stubbornness and resistance to change has cost the Parish direly needed traffic and drainage improvements for this area. Shortsided political motives have won the day. Specifically, district constituents in Todd Lambert’s district (and as a result, those in neighboring Councilman Benny Johnson’s district) are being deprived of real traffic and drainage infrastructure improvements that could change their lives for the better. And why? Because a few people don’t want to see 105 new lots with new homes and new families move into their area? Are they worried new neighbors and new homes will somehow adversely affect the trailer park at the intersection, or the dozens of poorly maintained properties nearby? Do those concerns really justify major infrastructure improvements for the area?

Will area residents be happy and satisfied with the Roddy Road safety widening while they wait at the antiquated 4-way stop sign on Black Bayou Road everyday for the foreseeable future? Heaven forbid a private entity try to step up with a valid and viable plan to improve the area for everyone, at POTENTIALLY NO COST TO THE PARISH!

Ascension Government officials should have more forethought than this. Ascension Citizens deserve better.

 

Ross Berthelot

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