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

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Dax Douet talks to a sizable crowd interested in the future of the Church Street Bridge. File photo

Carolyn Roy |
News Editor

City Engineer Nick Verret updated the council on two projects, the Church Street Bridge and traffic round-about at Texas and Dixie, at the City Council meeting Monday.
Plans for the new Church Street Bridge are developing. Verret said just a few weeks ago the City received 60 percent of the preliminary plans from La. DOTD. Verret said DOTD is considering City feedback “every step of the way” with consideration for effects on the Historic District and business community.

This article published in the Jan. 27, 2022, print edition

The next step should come in February when DOTD returns with “plans in hand” for a meeting to walk the site with the designers to consider even more details.
The final plans should be ready in May of 2023 with the bids to be let the following July. Construction will then begin on the temporary bridge and destruction of the old bridge. Construction should take about 18 months. The best estimate is that the new bridge will be complete at the end of 2024.
The round-about at Texas and Dixie streets won’t be a reality until sometime next year. Verret said DOTD will build and pay for the round-about that will save the City about $100,000. DOTD will begin preliminary plans in June, finalize the plans at the end of the year and begin construction next year. Topographical, geometrical and ecological studies take time Verret said.
The City Council will support creation of an economic development zone to support revitalizing a shopping center on South Drive.
Attorney Jeff Thomas represented the group, of which he is a member, that owns the River South Commons Shopping Center. Thomas said the zone is necessary to recruit three national tenants who want to open stores in the spaces once occupied by Steele’s and Stage. While he could not name the potential tenants, he said opening the new stores would create 70 new jobs. One store will be in the former Steele’s location and two will be in the former Stage.
The group’s attorney, Michael Busada, said the economic zone would require no money from the City but would allow the stores to charge an additional 1 cent sales tax for an undetermined length of time.
A similar economic development zone was established 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 center.
Trail Boss, Pay Day Loans, Chef Wok and an electronics store would not be part of the zone since the group does not own those properties.

A more detailed resolution will be developed when the stores commit to opening and there is a cooperative endeavor agreement with the City.
The cold weather is increasing utility bills about 20 percent since the cost of natural gas the City buys from CLECO has risen according to Director of Utilities Matt Anderson. The cost has increased 2 cents per kilowatt hour. The Council introduced a budget amendment for an additional $8 million to cover increased costs of natural gas. Anderson said the utilities costs should start to decline in March.
Natural gas prices have been lower for the last five to six years but have increased dramatically because of President Joe Biden’s scale back of coal-powered energy.
In a moment that brought a laugh from the Council and those in the audience, Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr., said that on Monday, he and City Attorney Alex Washington talked 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 information about the project. Threatt was at the Dec. 13 meeting and asked for “two weeks” to move the project forward or the property would go back to the City. “Two weeks” has been used several times as a reference for when the project would move forward but it has not done so.
Councilperson-at-Large Betty Sawyer Smith said at first she believed the project to be a good one but it had not materialized.
“He said that a month ago,” Councilman Eddie Harrington said of Threatt’s new time of “two weeks.” Councilman Dale Nielsen said the project was all about money for the potential developers and not about what was good for the City. He asked that it be put on the agenda for demolition at the next meeting.
Verret reported on the formation of a task force on traffic calming and speeding. Members are Verret, Sawyer-Smith, Councilman Chris Petite, Jack Duty, Dorothy McGaskey and NPD Capt. Susan Johnson. The goal is to target streets where speeding is prevalent.
Verret said reducing speed reduces injuries and fatalities while speeding reduces the driver’s field of vision. The task force will target some streets, review best practices, select counter measures and evaluate their effectiveness. They will engage DOTD with concerns about State routes in town. The highest priorities are Fairgrounds Road and Parkway Drive. Others are University Terrace, Melrose and Amanda Drive.
He listed several low-cost measures such as installing speeding signs, replacing or installing new signage and lowering the speed limit. He advocated a sign department if possible. Anyone with a slogan for the campaign can contact the Mayor or Verret.
The Council also adopted the following resolutions:
•Approved change order of $4,537 for sealing cracks in asphalt on Monroe Drive, Johnson Lane, Von Orange Lane and Chinquapin Drive
•Authorized Shontrell Roque to sign checks in absence of finance director
•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 public official schedule bond for mayor, finance director and assistant finance director
•Authorized purchase of Christmas lighting supplies
There were final votes on the following:
•Amended zoning classification for 125 North St./821 West St., for vacation rental
•Changed zoning at corner of West Broadmoor Subdivision for wing restaurant
•Changed zoning for 601 Keyser for pharmacy that will be open 24 hours seven days a week
The next scheduled meeting will be Monday, Feb. 14.
The Mayor and City Council will hold the State of The City Address Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. It can be viewed at the City’s website link at https://www.natchitochesla.gov/content/2022-state-city-address