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State can't afford to keep up with Ascension Parish growth

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PRAIRIEVILLE- Today, State Transportation leaders admitted they cannot afford to keep up with the fast pace of growth that is occurring in Ascension Parish.

There simply is not enough money to expand state roads that desperately need it in the parish.

The old saying, "if you build it they will come" has certainly applied to businesses and subdivisions in the parish, but not infrastructure.

It's the wee hours of the morning in Prairieville, and drivers are getting their morning started off on the wrong foot. Over a three day period, one after the other, our cameras found drivers using the turning lane to bypass traffic trying to get to the interstate.

Karen Rock drives a school bus and knows all too well about the frustration drivers face.

"It's terrible," Rock said. "The traffic is worse than Baton Rouge."

Ascension Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Matt Pryor says there's no excuse. He squarely places the blame on the state for not keeping up with growth.

"People are asking us to deny landowners their rights to develop their property and use it within the confines of the law, because government hasn't done their job widening the roads and making the roads passable," Pryor said.

According to Pryor, the two biggest issues for development are traffic and drainage. Typically about two new subdivisions get approved each month.  When those new subdivisions like one taking shape off Highway 73 back up to state roads, it's up to the state to accommodate the extra traffic.

"I think our council does a good job, but it seems like our legislators in Baton Rouge not our local ones but the rest of the state wants to ignore it," Pryor said.

A recently completed section of Highway 73 took the state years to complete. The state added an additional turning lane to alleviate traffic for drivers, but as soon as it was opened drivers say their headaches are worse than ever during peak traffic times. 

"You have to plan your times when you're going to Gonzales or Prairieville because if you don't you're going to be sitting in traffic for a very long time," Rock said.

State Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson says he understands the community's concern. However, his hands are tied with the money he has for roads.

"It's a historical issue, because we haven't adjusted the state's revenue source since 1989," Wilson said. "It's about 50% of the value it was worth back then, and increases in construction has grown and doing business has grown."

That answer is not good enough for Rock who makes her living on the road.

"Where's the money," Rock asked. "Where's the money going? That's what we need to know. There's tons of plants, around here we pay high property taxes as far as I'm concerned, and don't see them putting the funds into roads."

Currently, there are two major projects underway in Ascension Parish. Highway 42 is currently being widened, and the money was just secured to widen Interstate 10 from Highland Road in Baton Rouge to Prairieville.

There has also been plenty of discussion about raising the gas tax to improve roads. Any measure to do that would require legislative action. Lawmakers could either put an amendment to the constitution before voters, or they could pass a gas tax with a two thirds majority vote in both the house and senate.

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