DOTD will have plans in hand for the Church Street Bridge project in February

Caroline Roy |
news editor

City Engineer Nick Verret briefed council on two projects, the Church Street Bridge and the Roundabout in Texas and Dixie, during Monday’s city council meeting.
Plans for the new Church Street Bridge are in development. Verret said just weeks ago that the city had received 60% of preliminary plans from La. DOTD. Verret said the DOTD considers the city’s comments “every step of the way” considering the effects on the historic district and the business community.

This article published in the print edition of January 27, 2022

The next step is expected to come in February when DOTD returns with “plans in hand” for a meeting to walk the site with the designers to go over even more details.
Final plans are expected to be ready in May 2023, with bids launching the following July. Construction work on the temporary bridge will then begin and the destruction of the old bridge will begin. Construction is expected to take approximately 18 months. The best estimate is that the new bridge will be completed by the end of 2024.
The roundabout at Texas and Dixie streets will not be a reality until next year. Verret said DOTD will build and pay for the roundabout, which will save the city about $100,000. DOTD will begin preliminary plans in June, finalize plans by the end of the year, and begin construction next year. Topographical, geometrical and ecological studies take time, Verret says.
City Council will support the creation of an Economic Development Zone to support the revitalization of a shopping center on South Drive.
Lawyer Jeff Thomas represented the group, of which he is a member, owner of the River South Commons shopping center. Thomas said the area is needed to recruit three national tenants who want to open stores in the spaces formerly occupied by Steele’s and Stage. Although he could not name the potential tenants, he said the opening of the new stores would create 70 new jobs. One store will be in the old Steele location and two in the old Stage.
Class attorney Michael Busada said the economic zone would require no money from the city, but would allow stores to charge an additional 1 cent sales tax for an indefinite period.
A similar Economic Development Zone was created for Hobby Lobby to pay for infrastructure.
Thomas said the empty buildings now represent no revenue from utilities and taxes and the new stores would turn the area into a Class A shopping mall.
Trail Boss, Pay Day Loans, Chef Wok and an electronics store would not be part of the zone since the group does not own these properties.
A more detailed resolution will be developed when stores commit to open and there is a collaboration agreement with the City.
Cold weather has increased utility bills by about 20% since the cost of the natural gas the city buys from CLECO has gone up, according to utility manager Matt Anderson. The cost has increased by 2 cents per kilowatt hour. The Board introduced a budget amendment of an additional $8 million to cover rising natural gas costs. Anderson said utility costs should start falling in March.
Natural gas prices have been lower for the past five to six years, but have risen dramatically due to President Joe Biden’s curtailment of coal power.
In a moment that made Council and onlookers laugh, Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. said that on Monday he and City Attorney Alex Washington spoke to James Threatt, a representative of Real Estate Asset Development, a company trying to find financing for the Summertree apartments on Second Street. Threatt asked for “two weeks” to provide positive feedback on the project. The threat was at the December 13 meeting and asked for “two weeks” to move the project forward or the property would revert to the city. “Two Weeks” was repeatedly used as a benchmark for when the project would move forward, but it didn’t.
General Counsel Betty Sawyer Smith said at first that she thought the project was good, but it didn’t materialize.
“He said that a month ago,” Councilman Eddie Harrington said of Threatt’s new “two-week” term. Councilor Dale Nielsen said the project was about money for potential developers, not what was good for the city. He asked that it be put on the demolition agenda at the next meeting.
Verret reported on the formation of a traffic calming and speeding task force. Members are Verret, Sawyer-Smith, Councilman Chris Petite, Jack Duty, Dorothy McGaskey and NDP Captain Susan Johnson. The objective is to target streets where speeding is frequent.
Verret said reducing speed reduces injuries and fatalities while speed reduces the driver’s field of vision. The task force will target certain streets, examine best practices, select countermeasures and evaluate their effectiveness. They will engage DOTD with concerns about state roads in the city. The highest priorities are Fairgrounds Road and Parkway Drive. The others are University Terrace, Melrose and Amanda Drive.
He listed several low-cost measures such as installing speed signs, replacing or installing new signage, and lowering the speed limit. He advocated a signaling service if possible. Anyone with a campaign slogan can contact the mayor or Verret.
The Board also adopted the following resolutions:
• Approved $4,537 change order to seal asphalt cracks on Monroe Drive, Johnson Lane, Von Orange Lane and Chinquapin Drive
• Authorized Shontrell Roque to sign checks in the absence of the CFO
• Approved Lease of Lot 1 from Foshee Dusting Co., Inc. to Nor-Wes Inc.
• Authorized contract with Travelers Casualty and Surety Co., of America for official public bonding for Mayor, CFO and Deputy CFO
• Authorized purchase of Christmas lighting supplies
There were final votes on the following points:
• Modified zoning classification for 125 North St./821 West St., for vacation rental
• Rezoning at the corner of the West Broadmoor subdivision for the wing restaurant
• Change of zoning for 601 Keyser for the pharmacy which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week
The next scheduled meeting will take place on Monday 14 February.
The Mayor and City Council will hold the State of the City Address on Tuesday, February 1 at 7 p.m. It can be viewed at the city website link at https://www.natchitochesla.gov/content/2022-state-city-address

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