Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Don’t Delay Traffic Impact Study Implementation

Reflecting on the current political climate in Ascension Parish I am reminded of the old adage, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  The citizens of Prairieville have experienced the ill effects of unbridled growth without corresponding infrastructure improvements and we all know something needs to change.  But how?

On May 9, the Planning Commission approved Jamestown Crossing despite pleas from neighboring residents with concerns about safety, drainage and traffic.  Planning Director Jerome Fournier informed the commission that Highway 930, which bisects Jamestown Crossing, averages 17.3’ in width and specifically in the area where the Jamestown driveway is to be located the width varies from 17.1’ to 17.4’.

Ascension’s development code includes 17-4032 which requires Planning Commission Chairman Matt Pryor and his colleagues to “apply the following rules in evaluation of subdivision applications…No major or minor subdivision may be developed on any street which is less than 18’ in pavement width.”

Pryor, for years now, has blamed the Parish Council for failing to enact ordinances in the parish’s Land Development Code which would allow him and his fellow commissioners the ability to deny preliminary plats.  Finally, the Parish Council will discuss improved traffic impact policy.

Councilman Aaron Lawler, whose district includes the site of Jamestown Crossing, presides over the Transportation Committee, by his own admission, has known about the original 2016 Urban Systems, Traffic Impact Study report for over a year.  Buried by President Kenny Matassa administration, Lawler found out about Urban System’s Traffic Impact Study in April of 2017.  Lawler discarded the document, along with the $42,000 it costs parish taxpayers to produce.  The Transportation Committee recommended to the Parish Council on February 15, 2018 that Urban Systems be hired to update the same report at a cost of $25,000 to the taxpayer.

When a private citizen, Jeff Pettit, exposed the hidden report, demonstrating that the new one had no material changes, Lawler’s hand was forced.  The Transportation Committee forwarded more stringent Traffic Impact Study procedures to the full council.  The plan recommended by Urban Systems is the same policy used by St. Tammany Parish and was included in the 2016 Urban Systems report.  Had it been in place on May 9 Jamestown Crossing could not have been approved because a nearby intersection is already rated an “F.”

Keep in mind, its plan was delivered over two years ago.  Lawler’s explanation to his inaction:

“I reviewed the report and I did not think it added much to the issue of traffic impact studies.  I thought it lacked actionable information i.e. a specific traffic impact study that we should use in the parish.”

However Urban Systems provided four pages of recommendations and seemingly Lawler made a unilateral decision not to disclose the Urban Systems report to his fellow Councilmen.  How many other subdivisions would have not been approved?

On May 17, the Council’s Agenda includes (8) Consideration of changes to the Traffic Impact Study Policy (Transportation Committee).

Will the Parish Council move to represent the citizens of Ascension who have been pleading for a stop to unbridled growth?  Or will they move in favor of the Developers by delaying implementation of meaningful traffic impact studies?

Desperate times call for desperate measures.


Kim Christy