A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear a conversation about traffic all over town or the need for a “new” bridge. But if you want to discover the real culprit to see how we ended up with much of the traffic mess, just look at the two bridges pictured on this page. It wasn’t a money issue. It was a question of priority and the greater good. The greater good lost—and we all pay for it now and complain loudly. Too late. These two bridges are both memorials to pure politics. Did we learn anything?
The Horace Wilkinson Bridge, or our “new” Mississippi River bridge, celebrated 50 years this past April. This is no joke. It was 38 years later before we began construction on a truly “new bridge” across the Mississippi for the Capital Region in 2006—but it wasn’t connected to the interstate system or built where the real traffic needs were located. It was constructed south of Saint Francisville and called the Audubon Bridge. (Jim Bernhard recently said the name was appropriate because it “oughta been” in Baton Rouge.) The beautiful structure of steel and concrete cost $409 million and took five years to complete, opening in May of 2011. Some who have visited the bridge say they could have had a picnic on it and not been disturbed.
That is a travesty when one witnesses the daily traffic jams going east and west on Interstate 10 and the reality that we are at least five years from relief and still don’t even have a plan with a location for a new bridge or the funding source. (Just imagine if that beautiful bridge was now open a few miles south of the “new bridge” and the truck traffic was diverted around the single lane at the Washington Street exit?) So, how could this have happened? Pure politics. And we tolerate it. Shame on all of us.
Now there is another group formed to build a new bridge, but previous efforts to do so have become arguments between parish presidents who can’t agree on location. And there is talk of a public-private partnership with a toll. This is not new but probably the only way it will ever happen. Just do it.
The other bridge is a local Baton Rouge project, a pedestrian bridge that serves as another fine example of politics trumping the public good and even logic. It speaks volumes, and none of our leaders were held accountable. In fact, one of those “public officials” responsible is back in charge: Fred Raiford.
I will refer to this bridge crossing the canal on Corporate Boulevard as the Spinosa-Raiford Memorial Bridge (or “the bridge to nowhere”). As I recall, when Tommy Spinosa developed The Gates apartments and his CitiPlace shopping center, an issue was raised concerning people walking from the apartments to the center over the existing Corporate Boulevard bridge, which has no sidewalk—forcing them to dangerously walk in the road. Part of the approval required Spinosa to build a pedestrian bridge for the public—smart growth and pedestrian-friendly development.
Well, as you can see, a bridge was built, but it was approved to be placed behind the restricted gates and cut off from public use. It too rarely has any traffic and is basically a private facility. This stands as a testament to poor planning and pure politics at City Hall. And there are many more examples of “dumb growth” throughout our parish. We all pay the price daily. But as I have written on this page before, Fred Raiford, who was a master at this type of “growth” and politics, is back in City Hall to guide EBR into the future. That’s a step backwards. I guess we didn’t learn our lesson the first time.
While it is good news that our community continues to have new developments and growth, the bad news is some areas will get more traffic. Burbank Drive, especially near West Lee Drive, is booming with new housing (residential and student apartments), restaurants and a shopping center. Have developers been required to put in sidewalks and bike paths connecting the housing to restaurants and shopping so residents can walk or ride bikes to LSU? Many others will access this area from Lee Drive, which is still partly a two-lane road connecting to the very busy four-lane College Drive. This has needed widening for decades and has never happened. Shame on our city leaders and us all for this failure. There are many to blame, but we all suffer—and it will get worse.
We have examples going back decades of poor planning, refusing to tell developers “no,” and, yes, an unwillingness by residents to pay for roads.
How does the mayor solve traffic congestion for the future with the same old thinking, planning and politics by those who got us in this mess?
These two photos speak a couple thousand words on one of the real root problems of our traffic at the state and local levels: politics. We can’t just fix our traffic with more concrete and asphalt. So instead of just looking for a pot of money to fix traffic, let’s also look for intelligence, integrity, common sense and strong leadership for the greater good. If you don’t find it, you get “bridges to nowhere” and waste money.
Making her mark
We want to extend our congratulations and best wishes to WAFB-TV anchorwoman Donna Britt on her illustrious 37-year career and many contributions to our community. She is a true professional who set the bar high. We also admire her courage as she beat cancer and now faces ALS. Our prayers are with her.