Legislature Debates Highway Funding

Could the highway death of a Dutchtown High School graduate have set in motion a new statewide focus on improving Louisiana highways? It's beginning to look that way because of what's happening at the legislature.

The 17-year-old's truck was hit head-on along LA-42 near Manchac Acres in Prairieville eight days ago. As WAFB's Keitha Nelson reports there have been several deadly wrecks in that same spot over the years and one state representative has begun a campaign that seems to be picking up speed.

Driving along LA-42 in Prairieville has proven to be a challenge for some drivers. One nearby resident says his business sign has been plowed into 3 times within 5 months.

"We need to correct the road," says Representative Eddie Lambert, R-District 59. "It's a two lane road. It has over 21,000 vehicles per day on it, pre-Katrina. Right now there's no telling how many vehicles are on it."

Rep. Lambert has high hopes to get some big bucks for Louisiana's highways during this year's session. He has introduced several bills that could ultimately help with funding road projects: "One of them I co-authored with Representative Bodi White is trying to move the sales tax on vehicles into DOTD [the Department of Transportation and Development]. That would add about $300 million a year to our road system."

During a meeting in March with the DOTD Lambert was told in order to develop the road and improve its conditions they should expect to spend anywhere from $30 to $50 million.

"We have a golden opportunity right now with a $3 billion surplus to put money into highways," Lambert says. "Out of the $3 billion, we're only looking at $450 million they are talking about putting into highways which is totally inadequate."

The DOTD says LA-42's infrastructure cannot handle Ascension Parish's population increase. Officials there hope to eventually widen three-and-a-half miles of LA-42 from Airline Highway to LA-44, but for now the funding simply is not there.

Reporter: Keitha Nelson knelson@wafb.com