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Political intrusions on land-use choices unwelcome

Prior to state elections taking the forefront, in Shreveport a series of questions have arisen concerning the political ramifications of normally dull concepts such as corridors, access roads, and state-local relations. Their answers may indicate more attention being paid to political rather than economic and quality-of-life concerns.

Louisiana State Highway 3132, colloquially known as the Inner Loop, presently runs south through Shreveport and Caddo Parish from Interstate 20 ending at Flournoy-Lucas Road, or State Highway 523. (See here for a map.) The general idea held by policy-makers of all governments both state and local was that this road would continue curving to the southeast until it intersected State Highway 1 north of the Port of Caddo-Bossier, or would follow an alternative conception routing it farther south in the hopes of intersecting whatever manifestation of Interstate 69 appears in the next decade and thence to the Port, but either option would continue it from the present intersection.

It also illustrates a complex mix of governmental authority because of the nature of American intrastate governmental relationships.
Most of its land lies in Caddo Parish but has a combined Shreveport-Caddo jurisdiction because of the Metropolitan Planning Commission regulation of its use, jointly run by the two entities with planning authority over any land under Shreveport jurisdiction and five miles past city boundaries. Making matters more interesting, because the two roads at the intersection even if in Shreveport city limits are state designated, meaning it provides the upkeep and regulation of them, the state also is involved in plotting the future course of the Inner Loop, a limited access road, and with access to Flournoy-Lucas Road.

Supposedly trying to get all of these to cooperate in planning is the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments. A COG is a quasi-governmental body, the members of which voluntarily are governments, and if there is an official forum at which matters that affect more than one government should come to light and be resolved, this is it. Yet on this corridor issue for any extension of the Inner Loop this seems not to have been done, for no government anywhere has officially designated a sacrosanct path, which at its beginning must have room for an overpass and ramps.

Despite the apparent general agreement about a path, now it essentially has been mooted since a few years ago a developer coming from the east has put houses in it, dramatically raising any costs to make that the path now and politically prohibitive. Regardless, shifting it to the west before curving southeast remains possible, but now another developer, Bossier City Councilman Tim Larkin, is selling property to the west that would encroach and squeeze out either contemplated corridor if ever allowed to be developed (and has jacked up costs to taxpayers to do that as a result).

Larkin in essence caused the issue to hit the public’s consciousness when he asked for access to Flournoy-Lucas Road for the development, apparently arranged for by state Rep. Jane Smith who represents much of Bossier City, and the state refused citing the proximity of the existing Inner Loop off-ramp. However, Shreveport appears more than willing to grant that request if it that road were to be decommissioned as a state highway, leaving Shreveport with all operating and capital expenses for it from Highway 1 to Ellerbee Road (also part of Highway 523). Not having that access, while not making access to Larkin’s development impossible, would complicate and convolute matters.

Which leads to some questions:

  • Why did the MPC and NLCOG give up the preferred corridor so easily a few years ago? Did they truly make a concerted effort to alert the city, parish, and state to the consequences of their shifting the corridor, or even if they adequately informed these entities about their idea for a new corridor? If so, how and why could Larkin find approval for his development?

  • Why is Shreveport, with this acquiescence driven by Mayor Cedric Glover, so willing to take on the additional expense of several miles of increasingly-trafficked road, which in future years could add tens of millions of dollars in maintenance to the city’s infrastructure burden, when the state picks up the tab now? Wouldn’t it be possible to extend a frontage road from the existing one travelling south terminating at Flournoy-Lucas Road to accommodate Larkin that could be assumed by the state in future years, at far less aggregate expense?

  • Why did Smith involve herself in this process? Being a city councilman, Larkin needed no intervention to meet with state officials, so what was her purpose here? Does it have anything to do with Smith’s attempt to parachute into a state Senate seat this fall given her term limited status, the potential campaign assistance Larkin could provide her in doing so, and other favors she could curry among Shreveport political elites to help her campaign in an area not represented by her to date?
Regardless of these answers, it’s clear the planning process broke down. Making Flournoy-Lucas Road, unlike the Inner Loop an uncontrolled access corridor not suited to industrial traffic, the main thoroughfare for Port traffic is an unsatisfactory solution to development issues, both regarding land and economics. Reaching for immediate gratification of increased property values thus tax receipts and suiting the business and political needs of area politicians should not constitute pillars of land-use decision-making.

As a result, the episode has spurred creation of an advocacy group committed to keeping the original plan on track. It also has spawned some uncomfortable questions Smith must address during her campaign.

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