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Past decisions catching up to Bossier City traffic problem

Questions about access to and over the Jimmie Davis Bridge remind Bossier City residents about the questionable past choices made by Bossier City’s current elected officials.

It seems that a push is being made for the state to pay for, at the very least, ramps onto the bridge on the Bossier Parish side to accompany the existing ones on the Caddo side, to cut down on traffic tie-ups caused by the lighted intersection of CenturyTel Center Boulevard and Jimmie Davis Highway. Of course, two more additional lanes courtesy of another span would be better.

But this is not going to happen any time soon, perhaps ever. With four four-lane spans already over the Red River (note that Baton Rouge only has two four-lane-plus spans over the Mississippi) and a fifth set coming with I-69’s building south of the Jimmie Davis Bridge in about a decade, and a price tag of $40 million almost a decade ago to add a second span, and the incredible backlog of highway projects funded by the state, it’s just not going to happen. However, the ramps, which would cost less than a million bucks, remain a possibility.

Yet Bossier City seems to be putting all its eggs into the legislative basket, publicly giving no regard to alternative means of getting this project started, and soon. This, unfortunately, reflects the odd myopia city officials consistently have shown that afflicts their vision regarding roads that stray too far south of I-20.

Typically, despite the abundance of money pouring into the city’s coffers as a result of its excises on gambling (the 2006 budget anticipated over $33 million), the city would rather go out and soak residents, one way or the other. Last year, it was jacking up fees which were unnecessary had the city been much wiser in the use of that money. This year, it was cooperating with Bossier Parish politicians to try to foist a road tax (payable to the parish, but the city aided the cause by allowing supportive electioneering signs to be placed on its property) on the public which would have paid for an extension of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway and relieved some bridge-area congestion.

Instead of looking to offload the costs onto the citizenry, the city just needs to cut a check and get the ramps built. It could do so off the interest alone on unencumbered funds from the gambling revenue. Let’s see, to get a million dollars in a year, you’d need to invest about $21 million … oops, Bossier City’s spendthrift politicians already gave that away to a private developer who would have built and paid for it regardless, no questions asked, so I guess it won’t come from that.

(Speaking of the parking garage gift to the Louisiana Boardwalk, the public has been treated with more lame defenses of the giveaway. One angle is to point out tax revenue figures – neglecting, of course, to include increased costs such as increased police presence or cannibalization of existing businesses which have been dealt with thoroughly in this space previously. Regardless, that misses the point – these revenues could have been achieved without the city giving $21 million away. More humorously, the donated structure as an investment has been compared with city parks as an “investment” by the city, seeming to forget it was given to private developers on private land and is not serving as public property for recreation. Or, as my wife said, shaking her head when she heard that argument, “What are we supposed to do, have a picnic in the parking garage?” And, I would be surprised if Bossier City has spent $21 million total ever in creating its entire public park system, another indication of its recent priorities.)

The city may have frittered away the garage money, but with plenty on its way, there’s no reason by the summer this ramp project should not start. With a huge state surplus projected, the city should give its local legislators a shot with the 2006-07 capital outlay budget to get the money, but, if they come up short (and if can’t get this funding, with the bonanza of money state officials insist is coming in for the next several years, they never will), then it needs to fund the project itself.

If it’s looking for money, sell the CenturyTel Center (at a loss, naturally; the private sector would not built it because it wasn’t economically feasible but if the city shaved about $20 million off the building costs as its price, that probably would make it cost-effective for a buyer and relieve the city of a chronic money-loser) and use the interest from that to fund this and many other capital projects.

The sooner the ramps get built the better for the public as well for Bossier City elected officials, because the festering issue only reminds the public of these politicians’ strange priorities and desires to squeeze money out of the citizenry first to pay for them.

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