Early morning travelers pack Interstate 12 as they move westbound past Denham Springs toward East Baton Rouge Parish. (Photo by Tim Mueller)
Traffic in Baton Rouge is bad. It’s not a figment of our collective imagination. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact, well documented and supported by data.
Baton Rouge is the second-most congested of comparable mid-sized cities in the U.S. It ranks fourth among peer cities in excess fuel consumption per commuter. Motorists here pay the equivalent of a “congestion tax” that amounts to $1,000 per year, thanks to the time and fuel wasted in bumper-to-bumper traffic on maxed-out roadways.
For more than 35 years, local government and planning organizations have recognized the need to do something about the Capital City’s traffic woes, yet the problem has only gotten worse.
There are several reasons for the situation. For starters, Baton Rouge has no grid system, namely because there was no significant transportation planning during the critical growth years of the 1960s and 1970s. Granted, the city-parish has a Major Street Plan dating back to the 1950s and it has been updated over the years. But many of the projects in the plan have never been implemented, partly due to a lack of funding and partly because of an unwillingness to thwart development or encroach on private property rights.
Adding to the problem is that most of the explosive population growth of the past four decades has been away from the core of the city. Which brings up another significant problem: Most of the major arterials are insufficient to handle existing traffic.
Then there’s the fact that there is no alternative to the interstates that bisect the city. Former Mayor Kip Holden campaigned for a loop that would give drivers an alternative route around the city. But the surrounding bedroom communities balked at the idea, not that funding at the federal and state levels for such a project would have materialized anyway.
In recent years, business and political leaders in the Capital Region have appeared more united in their concern about the need to do something about the worsening gridlock, which residents regularly rank as one of the area’s biggest problems. They seem more determined than ever to find a solution, and several sound, rational plans have been floated.
But as much as people complain about traffic, the sad truth is they don’t want to pay more in taxes to lay down more asphalt and they’re unwilling to give up a few feet of property to allow for a sidewalk or a road widening.
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