The Union Parish Police Jury is considering an offer by the Department of Transportation and Development to turn over responsibility for portions of two state highways to the parish along with a tempting up-front, lump sum payment to maintain those highways for decades.
DOTD is offering to transfer responsibility for a portion of Highway 552 near Point Wilhite and a stretch of Ward Chapel Road, Hwy 828, east of Farmerville. The state told jurors in a meeting last week that it will bring the roads up to pristine condition before the transfer and then pay the parish whatever DOTD believes it will cost to maintain the roads for up to 40 years.
Matthew French, who manages the Road Transfer Program for the Monroe district of DOTD, said the payment would likely be in excess of $3 million.
The portion of Hwy 552 in question runs through District 3, and that district’s juror Ben Bridges said he is cautiously optimistic about the opportunity.
“I’m very interested in pursuing the idea,” Bridges said, “particularly since our road program is very close to being able to handle all our road projects without having to bid them out.”
Because the parish can, using its own people and equipment, perform road maintenance for substantially less money than it costs to pay the state or private contractor for the same work, Bridges said the parish could come out ahead if the state pays the parish what it would cost the state to maintain the road.
“But I have some concerns,” he said. “Once we take over the road, we own it. Whatever it costs to maintain it is on us, so I need to know what the state is offering before I can commit.”
Bridges said he also is concerned about how the police jury will choose to manage the funds after the transfer. There will be a temptation, he said, to treat the money like a windfall and use it to fund road maintenance projects throughout the parish now, rather than dedicating it to the long-term maintenance of those two stretches of highway.
“Where does that leave us in 20 or 30 years when these roads need significant maintenance?” Bridges said.
Bridge said he is not certain he can support the road transfer without a commitment from the entire jury that ensures the long-term health of the two roads.
The state presently owns over 27 percent of the public road mileage in Louisiana, well above the national average, according to the DOTD. Only nine states own a higher percentage of public road miles than Louisiana and only ten states have larger state highway systems.
DOTD has identified approximately 5000 miles of state roads that the state believes could be better maintained by local governments.