Louisiana Community Probes End To Traffic Woes


GONZALES, La. (AP) — Growth in Louisiana's Ascension Parish, though welcome, has brought with it additional traffic woes.

A committee of the Ascension Parish Council will meet Monday to discuss whether a public transit system would alleviate some of those problems, The Advocate reported.

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"It's just to discuss it," Councilman Aaron Lawler said. "We're not even proposing anything yet. We're just learning about it, see who we can talk to, see what ideas they come up with and take it from there."

For many years, the traffic debate has centered on how to improve rural roads and whether stemming population growth might temper the need for increased infrastructure. Lawler said his Transportation Committee will meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss if a transit system would benefit the parish's 123,000 residents. Services in place now benefit only the elderly or disabled.

Lawler said the public transit idea is a "long shot," but he sees potential benefits for those who drive each day to chemical plants up and down the Mississippi River. The parish would benefit if fewer commuters are hitting the highways.

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"I know tons of people that work at the plants. They all drive down there at the same time. They all drive back. You see the traffic it causes," said Lawler, who represents northern Prairieville. "And if you think about it, from where I am, up in Prairieville, people working over in Donaldsonville, that's 30 miles there and 30 miles back."

Lawler has discussed establishing a system with Ascension Parish School Board member Robyn Penn Delaney, who's also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta alumnae chapter in Ascension Parish. As part of the group's public service mission, she and other alumnae see public transit as a potential way to help the poor in Donaldsonville and western Ascension Parish.

Jevella Williamson, the sorority's chapter president, said many residents in Donaldsonville and outlying communities like Modeste and Smoke Bend don't have or can't afford a car or truck for trips to places like the grocery store, doctor or pharmacy.

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"I know we're not a large city like a Baton Rouge or New Orleans, maybe, but if there was something that we could do to just assist people in their everyday 'transportational' needs," Williamson said.

While Ascension Parish lacks general public transit, the Ascension Council on Aging offers on-demand services for the elderly and disabled through a combination of dedicated property tax revenue and federal grant dollars, officials said.

Darlene Schexnayder, executive director of the Council on Aging, said the shuttle service, which handled 28,500 trips last year, runs 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday on the east and west bank of the river. She said 75 percent of the trips are in western Ascension Parish but believes there is a need for more across the parish.

Officials with the Capital Region Planning Commission said some planning documents, including the Gonzales city master plan and the group's own transportation master plan, note the opportunity to link commuters on the north side of eastern Ascension with plants outside Gonzales. Gonzales is also expected to be a stop in a proposed Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans passenger rail system.

Kim Marousek, the commission's director of planning, said public transit or private shuttles are possible, but another, easier first step to serve plant workers could be van-pooling.

She said the commission has set up an on-demand ride-matching program and is evaluating whether "van-pooling" could be added to that program.

"We'd love to be involved in those conversations, because there's a couple of options that might be available to them," Marousek said.

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