BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Kids in the Gardere community already have to dodge traffic just to have a good time.
“They walk to go to the store. They ride their bicycles. It is going to be dangerous,” said Murelle Harrison, executive director of the Gardere Initiative.
The neighborhood playground is on one side of the busy street and the majority of the kids live on the other. Harrison says there are probably over 1,000 children that cross Ned Avenue on a regular basis.
There’s now a state plan to extend the four-lane highway, Staring Lane, right through that kid-friendly neighborhood. The families living in the homes in that area are worried. The talks and proposals have been hovering over the people living in the area for years.
Harrison says when the Gardere Initiative moved into that neighborhood in 2014, they began to hear whispers of that highway expansion.
The Gardere Initiative acts as a community program, offering after school tutoring, adult education, and free legal advice.
“For the kids, we give them that motivation to stay in school so they can provide better for their families with better paying jobs through education," said Reginald Brown, program manager for the Gardere Initiative.
The potential problem with the highway expansion is heavy traffic with lots of kids walking around. If the plan goes through, Staring Lane will connect with Nicholson Drive.
“We have an after school program. We have summer programs that are for eight weeks. That means that our children will have to learn how to navigate through that four-lane highway,” Harrison explained. “Children go to the playground. We have activities there many days and especially during the school year."
Leaders of the Gardere Initiative understand the need to improve traffic woes, but the safety of kids walking in the neighborhood comes first for them.
“I have mixed feeling,” said Brown. "But I understand the need for progress, the need to reduce congestion.”
“We were thinking about options,” Harrison said. “One is we wish we would just stop the work.”
Brown suggests creating an overhead bridge.
“So the traffic goes all overhead and no traffic comes through here. I understand that’s expensive, but it is not more expensive than a child being hurt," he said.
It’s unclear when work will begin, but until then, people in the area say they will fight to make sure the community’s best interest is kept at the forefront.
“We just want to public to know what happens in communities like this that are marginalized from the larger communities and oftentimes there aren’t persons to speak up for the children,” Harrison said.
The City of Baton Rouge says they don’t disagree with the concerns of the people, but right now, they’re trying to find a way to address those issues and work with DOTD.
The city is expected to meet with the state the week of April 29 to discuss the project.