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Bossier City, Parish need to lead to solve road problem

Pay for an extension of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway, or give a gift to a private developer? Essentially the same people who ran Bossier City then as now opted for the latter, but a wiser decision then may have spared Bossier City traffic headaches for years to come.

Several years ago, Congress created the Red River National Wildlife Reserve, and the plan to get it up and running within a decade. This included the building of a headquarters a couple of miles south of the Jimmie Davis Bridge in Bossier Parish. Keep in mind this was public knowledge the past few years, and certainly something local elected officials should have known – that the federal government would be acquiring land that was part of the parish to comprise a portion of Refuge, it would be putting a headquarters complex there, and it would need access to that.

Suddenly, and belatedly, now that the development of the refuge is to the point where the access road needs to be decided, parish and city officials have come to realize that the only real choice is Sunflower Road, which runs east from Barksdale Boulevard and as far as access serves only as the entrance to five subdivisions, four of which have no other access. It has two lanes, no sidewalks, and a ridiculously-slow 25 miles per hour speed limit.

This situation triggered a notice authored by local elected officials and distributed by the South Bossier Citizens Assembly to area residents, urging them to contact the office of Rep. Jim McCrery (who also introduced the bill in 2000 to create the RRNWR) to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service not to make Sunflower Road the access point. All of this is well and good and should be pursued, but the fact of the matter is, Sunflower Road is the only potential access to the Refuge for the next five years and, unless the federal government decides it wants to wait that long to open the headquarters complex, that is going to be the access road to it. And it doesn’t seem likely that Fish and Wildlife will want to wait that long – the federal government has envisioned opening the center by 2008.

The Mar. 27 informational session sponsored by the SBCA revealed the parish could have something in place by Sep. 2007. Well, what is everybody waiting for?

Unfortunately, the latest capital plans by the city and parish don’t intend for southern expansion of the Parkway until 2010. Here, things get a bit tricky because virtually all of the land on which the extension would be built is under parish jurisdiction, yet it’s Bossier City that would benefit much more by it. So, the project essentially must be completed by the parish, and one reason why it has not been done more expeditiously is because the parish has had much more high-priority items like courthouses to build with the limited funds it has available. It would have to have a bond issue passed to complete the $15 million project.

But to Bossier City, this has become a crisis because it will suffer from heightened use of Sunflower Road and because the building of infrastructure for the Refuge probably will increase eventual costs and time needed for the Parkway extension. Thus, the impetus to solve this problem must come from Bossier City, even if it has to get others to do it on its behalf.

The problem is the federal government needs to know that work will begin on some kind of extension in time for the Refuge’s complex to have access when it opens, otherwise it will use Sunflower Road. The solution is to have Bossier City to get Bossier Parish to start on that right away; specifically, if the parish needs the money to get cracking, for the city to give it the money, in the form of a loan.

The city could easily pull a few million dollars out of its Riverboat Trust Fund to lend to the Parish for this purpose. Or, it could delay some other capital projects to do the same. The point is, immediately a two-lane road a mile or two long could be started upon and finished in time to placate the federal government.

Of course, the full extension could be well under way had the city lent the parish the entire $15 million years ago, and we’d have the completed project much sooner (with Bossier City’s citizens also reaping the benefit of a good rate of return on that investment). Instead, by way of example, the typically short-sighted, bauble-loving Bossier City Council and its then-mayor decided a couple of years ago to hand $21 million to private developers to pay for a parking garage the developers would have paid for on their own whose rate of return to the city probably is negative.

With all due respect, complaining to the federal government is not going to solve the problem, and if that’s all local elected officials support they are derelict. What will is Bossier Parish politicians using some foresight and willpower cooperating with Bossier City politicians expanding their thinking from its usual parochial quality to give the federal government a better choice. Bossier governments need to cooperate to start on the extension, right now.

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