A good day for Ascension; stricter Traffic Impact Study policy introduced

Ascension’s Council introduced an ordinance to put some bite in the parish’s toothless Traffic Impact Study (TIS) policy on Thursday in Donaldsonville.  A long time in coming and the delay kept the door open for numerous subdivision preliminary plats to garner the rubber-stamp of approval from the appointed Planning Commission without corresponding traffic infrastructure.  Implementation of the policy, cribbed from St. Tammany Parish’s ordinance, would revolutionize the way development is done in Ascension.

There’s still the matter of a public hearing and Council vote though opposition would be political suicide for many council members.  The introduced ordinance includes:

“A proposed development which is subject to the TIA requirements of this policy may be disapproved when the results of the required TIA demonstrate that the proposed project will overburden the existing roadway system by causing a reduction in service of affected roadways, negatively impacts the safety of the roadway, or is below the adopted Level of Service (LOS) “D”.  In the case where the existing LOS is below “D”, the required mitigating improvements shall improve the LOS to “D” or better.”

The highlighted text is the revolutionary part since it disallows the exercise of discretionary authority by a majority of the Planning Commission who refuse to hold any developer to account.  The effect of requiring a developer to pay for “mitigating improvements (to) improve LOS to ‘D’ or better” is a virtual moratorium in much of north Ascension where “F” rated intersections are the rule, not the exception.  Case in point: Jamestown Crossing.

The most recent Planning Commission disgrace was its May 9 approval by Commissioners Matthew Pryor, Julio Dumas, Morrie Bishop, and Ken Firmin.  Had the subject ordinance been in place Dantin Bruce Development would have had to improve the intersection at Hwy 42/930 from its current “F” to a “D” which would have necessitated substantial capital investment.

Would the project have still been feasible?

“That’s a business decision for the developer,” said Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee who has championed adoption of more stringent TIS since 2015.  “If any developer is willing to invest millions of dollars to improve our infrastructure it’s a win for every citizen of our parish; including those new residents who will occupy these subdivisions.  It’s a good day for Ascension Parish.”

Satterlee took up the TIS issue at three 2017 meetings of the Council’s Strategic Planning committee he chairs.  Without cooperation from President Kenny Matassa’s administration, and no support from committee members, the effort stalled last April.

TIS reform was moved to the Transportation Committee chaired by Councilman Aaron Lawler where it languished until February.  That’s when Christine Darrah of Urban Systems, Inc. appeared to discuss updating the April 15, 2016 Traffic Impact Policy Review she had produced.  That document was concealed by the Matassa administration, unearthed by Darrah’s presentation to the Transportation Committee on February 5, (2018).

With minimal material changes (Urban Systems work product resulted in the ordinance, nearly verbatim to St. Tammany’s in sections, being introduced last night), it took another four months to make it onto a Council agenda.  In the interim two of the worst Planning Commission approvals were made; Oak Grove Towhouses in March and Jamestown Crossing last month.  The former had been denied by the Commission only to be approved on Reconsideration after the Parish Council declined to hear an appeal…

RECONSIDERATION of once denied Oak Grove Townhouses: The fix is in.

And now Councilman Lawler is proposing a moratorium along Hwy 42.  Curious, since he and Planning Commissioner Julio Dumas brokered a deal with Dantin Bruce Development on Oak Grove Townhouses.  Another Dantin Bruce project, Jamestown Crossing was approved without the more stringent TIS.  Both developments lie in Lawler’s District 7 on Hwy 42.

Had Lawler pushed Urban Systems’ product onto the Council agenda sooner, chances are that one or both Dantin Bruce developments would never have come before the Planning Commission.  The District 7 councilman knew of the Traffic Impact Policy Review in 2017…

If the introduced ordinance is adopted, Ascension will be doing exactly what St. Tammany does, at least when it comes to TIS.  In addition to the verbiage above developers, coordinating with Ascension’s Planning Department, “may modify the development proposal to reduce traffic-related impacts.  Modifications to applications for projects may include, but shall not be limited to:

  • Dedication of additional right-of-way
  • Re-routing of traffic and proposed access points serving the proposed project
  • Traffic signal timing and/or phasing adjustments (with coordination and approval from the owner of the signal)
  • Restriping or reconfiguration of intersections
  • Installation of a roundabout
  • Installation of a signal
  • Providing funding for infrastructure improvements
  • Any other recommendations by the DPD upon review”

Better late than never.