District 3 residents voice opinions on proposed Sugarhouse Road Extension

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

Sugarhouse Road area residents talked about safety, road repairs, economic development and drainage at Thursday’s open house public meeting.

The meeting to discuss three alternative routes proposed for Sugarhouse Road Extension was held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 18 at Phoenix Magnet Elementary School, 4500 Lincoln Road.

“The proposed action is the development of a connector route in south Alexandria between Louisiana Highway 1 (LA 1), Interstate Highway 49 (I-49) and interconnected highways U.S. 167 and U.S. 71,” according to a meeting handout.

“The proposed project was adopted by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as a part of its regional master transportation plan,” the handout document states.

“This plan was funded by and vetted by the Federal Highway Administration and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. This project was initially funded for construction in July 2005 by the MPO, but monetary constraints have caused delay,” the handout states.

“The proposed Sugarhouse Road extension would be constructed and sponsored by the City of Alexandria, and owned and maintained by the State of Louisiana,” the document states.

At intervals upon arrival, participants were directed into a school room to watch a brief Power Point presentation before going into the school’s cafeteria to ask their questions or give their comments to officials waiting near maps of the area.

“I think it was an excellent opportunity for the citizens to come out and voice their opinions,” said Alexandria City Councilman Jonathan Goins, who represents District 3 where the proposed project is located.

“I always support the voice of the citizens and that’s what I’m going to support when it comes down to a vote for any action taken about Sugarhouse. It’s going to be whatever the citizens ultimately decide,” Goins said.

Goins agreed he’s also heard some of the concerns expressed about safety, road repairs, economic development and drainage.

“Folks want a positive impact on the area and when it comes to a positive impact, most of the time here, they’re talking about economic growth, some sort of job creation, you know, some type of economic anchor, because we don’t have that on this side, OK, and that’s what we’re looking at, that’s a benefit of the road coming through here,” Goins said.

As to side issues such as drainage, Goins said, “We definitely don’t want it to have a negative impact on drainage. If anything, we want the project as a whole to resolve many of the drainage issues.”

Rapides Parish Police Juror Ollie Overton, who represents District F where the proposed project is located, said, “What I would like to see happen, even though I know it’s a wetland but certainly I would like to see it stay south from the city as much as possible — that way you leave room for a lot of growth in the area.”

Overton said keeping the Sugarhouse Road extension project to the south would avoid decimating growth to the north side, where the Rev. Joe Green of Rapides Station Community Ministriesand Sibal Holt of S Holt Construction are building affordable housing.

Drainage is also one of Overton’s concerns as well, he said.

“I would like to see them maybe put drainage ponds down there to keep some of the drainage in flow and release some of the pressure off the city,” Overton said.

“Also, those ponds could serve as recreation for the kids in the area,” Overton said.
Alexandria City Council President Roosevelt Johnson said, “One of the things that’s real important about forums like this is that we give the best and provide the best information that we can possible for the citizens who live in this district.”

Johnson said he’d like to see the Sugarhouse Road project move forward with funding as well as the best results for the area to ensure growth and development along this route “somewhere, somehow.”

“We have to review the wetlands, we have to review everything that must be done, but the main thing is to satisfy the residents of this area to make sure we make the best decision,” Johnson said.

One of the residents of the area since 1958, Janette Franklin, 77, of Lincoln Road, who lives two blocks from Sugarhouse, said, “Tell them it’s time to get this on the ball.”

Franklin said she doesn’t think too much of the project because “they have been going through this for years and they haven’t done anything, all they do is have meetings, and the meetings, they never end.”

“We need a street rather than an outlet to Highway 1,” Franklin said.

“Lincoln Road is torn up, from Hudson to Sugarhouse, and Sugarhouse is torn up. We have a time just driving up and down the street going different places. We need a street,” Franklin said, blaming heavy traffic for road conditions.

“We don’t have a decent street down here except for from Hudson to Willow Glen,” Franklin said. “Any way they do it, just get us a street, we need a street.”

Walter Vercher Jr., 54, of MacDonald Street, who has houses on Morris Street near Sugarhouse, said that he’s concerned about proper lighting of roads for the safety of children in the area.

Also, Vercher said the project has been long promised. “I’m old enough I want to see it before I go,” Vercher said.

In addition, the proposed routes would relieve heavy traffic off Lincoln Road and Hudson, Vercher said.

“Safety is my main thing — if you’re going to do it, don’t just come in and dump a road in there,” Vercher said.

Freddie Swafford, 40, of Jacks Drive off Lincoln near Sugarhouse, said that economic development in the community was his main concern.

“We asked about the drainage,” Swafford added. “If they bring it down Hudson, it’ll take a lot of that water pressure off. When it rains, it does have a lot of tendency to flood in the area, so if they bring it down Hudson, it’ll help us out a lot with the drainage,” Swafford said.

“The concern I have right now is that, why it took so long to get to this point, but other than that, I think they’re doing a wonderful job at moving forward, so I hope they keep going forward with it and we can see it end,” Swafford said.

Swafford added that he liked the manner of this public forum and asking questions of “someone that knew exactly what was going on instead of a middle man.”

“People who were actually involved in this, we were able to talk to about it and I got to congratulate the ones that are in charge, how they handled it, they did a wonderful job,” Swafford said.

However, Jay Johnson, 50, of Acadian Village in District 3, said he’d have preferred a public meeting conducted in less of a piecemeal fashion because he thinks one doesn’t get a feel for the sentiment of the community.

“We have the information available to us but to get on one accord I think we should speak with one voice and this way our voices are still scattered,” Johnson said.

Dianne Gallien, 60, and her husband Joseph, 59, who live on Elaine Street two blocks from Sugarhouse, also attended the meeting.

Joseph Gallien said he’s concerned about how the project would affect their home and property.
“We live right next to the Interstate,” Dianne Gallien said. “That’s why I came out to see, then, to find out what’s going on.”

The public comment period continues until March 4, according to the Power Point presentation.

An accurate traffic analysis on Hudson Road is expected to be completed on June 4 and a second public meeting will follow on June 15, with a public comment period extending until June 29, the Power Point presentation states.

A public hearing will be held Nov. 2, with the public comment period extending until Nov. 15, the Power Point presentation states, and the environmental assessment process is scheduled to conclude by Jan. 31, 2011.

For more information, contact Rachel LeCompte or Perry Franklin with Franklin Industries, 1201 Main Street, Suite B, Baton Rouge, the consultants conducting the meetings, by calling (225) 768-9060 or by emailing rachellecompte@franklinindustries.net.

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