Central council OKs road work deal

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CENTRAL — The City Council formally approved a deal with East Baton Rouge Parish and the state that will accelerate the widening of Sullivan and Hooper roads, two congested state roads that run through the growing city.

A tentative agreement was announced in March but Central withheld its approval until the state pledged its share of the $25 million project.

The City Council unanimously approved the deal at its meeting Tuesday.

Mayor Mac Watts said the agreement will allow Central to stretch its tax dollars to expand two congested local roadways.

“That’s the first time it’s been done in the state, to my knowledge, where a municipality, a parish and the state have partnered” for a road project, Watts said.

The project was far down on the East Baton Rouge city-parish’s Green Light Plan, the road project plan funded by a half-cent sales tax.

Under the agreement, Central will dedicate $7.5 million of its current and future proceeds from the tax for the project, and the city-parish will put up $9.5 million.

The state will provide $7 million to cover the remaining cost for the widening and $1.2 million for related sewerage work, said David Barrow, Watts’ executive assistant.

Barrow said the city-parish could begin design work next month, with construction starting in two years, he said.

The project will four-lane sections of Hooper and Sullivan roads which now have only two lanes. That includes widening of Hooper from Joor Road to Sullivan Road, and widening of Sullivan from Wax Road to Hooper. Both Hooper and Sullivan roads would also get medians.

Central officials estimate that the busiest stretch of Sullivan Road, which carries traffic to and from Central Middle School and Central High School, handles nearly 24,000 vehicles a day.

The Green Light Plan, approved by voters in 2005, is funded by a 23-year extension of the half-cent sales tax dedicated to roads. Money the tax generates allows the city-parish to issue bonds to build larger projects sooner than under its old pay-as-you-go system.

The city-parish has been holding Central’s proceeds from the tax since the city was incorporated in 2005.

Given its low standing on the long-term Green Light Plan project list, the Central road projects would have taken an estimated 10-12 years to begin engineering work, Central and city-parish officials have said.

Once Central and the city-parish agreed to dedicate money to the project, Central’s legislative delegation lobbied Gov. Bobby Jindal and his administration for surplus funds.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said Jindal was impressed with the proposal because Central and the city-parish were willing to work together and put up money for work on state highways.

“It made it a lot easier for us to get this done,” Erdey said.

Erdey — who discussed the project at Tuesday’s council meeting with Rep. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central; and Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central — said the agreement should be a model for other municipalities in the state.

Source: Writer: Jeremy Harper