Committee recommends increasing Transportation Impact Fee levy

Since being codified in April of 2016 the Transportation Impact Fee imposed on every new construction has generated $10,651,899 according to Planning Director Jerome Fournier.  Fournier presented the facts and figures during Tuesday’s meeting of the Parish Council Transportation Committee, recommending that the fee imposition be levied at 80% of the corresponding schedule (since 2017 the fee has been collected at 70% on the east bank, 35% on the west bank).  A unanimous committee recommended the change to the full council, along with a 1.34% across-the-board increase.

The recommendation was for Zones 2 and 3 only, exclusive to the east bank.

“Some of the monies collected have been allocated and are being used now for construction projects across the parish,” the Planning Director explained.

$7,253,485 of the total emanated from Zone 3, the area on the east bank and north of Hwy 74…

Red lines on the map are roads approved for Impact Fee expenditures

$3,291,347 from Zone 2 which includes the rest of east bank Ascension excluding the City of Gonzales and the Town of Sorrento; and $107,067 from Zone 1 on the west bank.

The 2016 codification implemented a Fee Schedule recommended by Duncan & Associates, the firm which had performed the requisite Transportation Impact Fee Study all the way back in 2006.  The ordinance self-concluded that it was “in the best interests of the citizens of Ascension Parish to establish impact fees to assist in the mitigation of the Transportation Impact of the rapid growth on the transportation network” within the parish.  Requiring an 8-vote supermajority, the same fee schedule failed by a single vote in 2006.

The “consumption-based model…proposes to charge a new development cost of replacing the capacity that it consumes on the major roadway system.”  But, as Planning Director Fournier stated, “everybody pays the fee;” at least everybody who builds a new residential, commercial, and even public structure (outside of Ascension’s three municipalities that is).

The fee schedule separates residential structures by square footage:

  • Less than 2,000 sq. ft. – $2,779 (collected at 70%=$1,945)
  • 2,000-2,999 sq. ft.  – $2,925 ($2,048)
  • 3,000 sq. ft. or more – $3,096 ($2,167)

The schedule includes various amounts for commercial buildings based upon the amount of traffic any given business is expected to generate. That is why a fast food restaurant faces a larger fee than other establishments of the same size.

Raising the collection to 80% of the schedule, with the 1.34% adjustment yields:

  • Less than 2,000 sq. ft. – $2,253
  • 2,000-2,999 sq. ft.  – $2,372
  • 3,000 sq. ft. or more – $2,510

A lone voice of dissent, Councilman Dempsey Lambert argued that…”with COVIC (sic) and everything else…the country and the parish…everybody’s trying to get back on their feet.  I think the $2,200 is just a little bit steep.”

Transportation Chairman Aaron Lawler who, like Lambert, was on the council when the fee schedule was implemented, countered that an extra $300 spread over a 30-year mortgage amounts to one dollar per month.  Lawler has consistently lobbied for collection at the full 100%.  His argument was joined by Councilman Dal Waguespack who referenced conversations with realtors who “can’t sell enough houses” to satiate the market demand.

Waguespack unseated another Lambert for the District 9 seat on October 12, 2019.  Todd Lambert, as it happened, was the swing vote in 2006 when the impact fee failed by a single vote.  The current District 9 representative made the motion to recommend levying the fee at 80% and it was approved without objection.

Planning Director Fournier went on to recommend adding Cannon Road to the list of approved roadways to receive funding.

The idea is to widen Cannon to 20 feet and extend it westward to connect with Airline Hwy; “providing another east-west corridor…to move traffic across the parish.”  Since the network of approved roads is produced by use of an equation, adding any amount of linear feet requires eliminating a similar amount somewhere else.  Fournier suggested omitting Hwy 75, the road paralleling the Mississippi River levee in Geismar/Darrow, which would also allow a section of Hwy 22 from Sorrento to the river to be added.

The only dissenting voice was Chairman Lawler’s.

“Our industrial area is extremely important,” he asserted.  “(It) adds so much more to our parish from the perspective of giving us jobs, giving us opportunity.”

But “our industrial area” pays nothing into to Transportation Impact Fee fund.  Fees are tied to issuance of permits and those industrial projects are permitted through the State of Louisiana explained Fournier.   Favoring a project linking Black Bayou Road, Hwy 44, and Hwy 74 together; Lawler was alone in opposing the addition of Cannon to the network.

Councilman Lambert, who expressed a preference for improving Cannon, wondered whether Louisiana DOTD would even approve of the idea, advising that soliciting the state agency’s input might be wise.

“Cannon certainly bears the brunt of some of that (residential subdivision) growth,” countered Councilman Waguespack referencing its width (or lack thereof).

Cannon Road viewed west-to-east

“I’d like to see Cannon added,” asserted Waguespack whose district includes the road.

Improving Cannon has “been discussed for a long time,” added Councilman John Cagnolatti who opined that it “would help tremendously in moving people across the parish.”  Councilman Michael Mason and Chairwoman Teri Casso also expressed their preference for including the narrowest of parish roads into the network.

Ultimately, it was decided to defer the item to June when DOTD’s input might be received.  Parish Engineer Joey Tureau advised that DOTD “prefers projects that relieve traffic congestion” and went on to recommend employing a traffic consultant to determine if improvements to Cannon Road fit that bill.