Williams Avenue residents John and Sarah Luster and Bray and Jamie Williams hit the pavement trying to rally support before the January 25th City Council meeting, where the council will revisit Ordinance #65. At the last meeting, the City Council tabled the ordinance that would authorize Mayor Lee Posey to execute an option to purchase the property at 1128 Williams Avenue for a period of nine months. The purchase option puts the City one step closer to building a bridge from 1128 Williams Avenue across Cane River Lake connecting at the old auto dealership building at Washington Street and Highland Park Drive.
The City is looking at this option because the Church Street Bridge requires repairs. In an effort to prevent bottlenecking the town during construction, the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and City Council are considering a temporary or permanent bridge at 1128 Williams Avenue. While Williams Avenue residents recognize that the Church Street Bridge must be improved, they fear that this location will be destructive to the neighborhood and all of North East Natchitoches. They petition that the Ordinance not be passed and the option of a lane remaining open during the construction of the Church Street Bridge be chosen.
“We have really pushed our luck on the Church Street Bridge,” said Councilman Dale Nielson. “We are trying to encourage the DOTD to get the project going to fix it. We fear the Church Street Bridge will get shut down and strangle the town.” Nielson explained that, because of how the DOTD funds projects, the City can’t dictate exactly how the repairs will be done. “I really don’t want to disrupt the neighborhood,” said Nielson. “I want the Bypass, but I’m not opposed to a temporary bridge if that is how the DOTD wants to do it. I would love to see sidewalks and bike lanes on Williams Avenue. Everything we are doing now with the DOTD we are trying to put in bike lanes. It is a hard balance between preservation and progress when you live in a town like Natchitoches.”
The residents had many concerns pertaining to the 1128 Williams Avenue bridge options. One of which was the excess of traffic on Williams Avenue. At the last City Council Meeting, Councilman David Stamey noted that the DOTD predicted 2,000 vehicles could use the bridge at 1128 Williams Avenue a day. The residents fear that the weight of more traffic would exacerbate road deterioration. They also fear for the safety of walkers, joggers, bikers and children who frequent the avenue; citing the speed limit and the lack of sidewalks, lighting and shoulders as additional potential hazards. This could effect more than Williams Avenue residents. The avenue is regularly chosen for community walk/runs for charity and exercise.
Residents claim that the bridge would compromise the cultural and quiet neighborhood, disturb the peace on the recreational Cane River Lake and create privacy concerns. They are worried about property values decreasing along Cane River Lake as it may become a less desirable place to live due to excess traffic, noise and access to and from residences.
Preservation is also a concern of the residents. They seek a preservation plan for the historic landscape of the oak alley before any decisions are made. The plan to preserve the oak alley would be beneficial to the whole town because it is a tourist attraction that is visited and photographed often. The oak alley was made iconic when it was portrayed in the film Steel Magnolias. The residents fear the oak alley will be endangered by truck traffic brought on by the bridge. The residents also cited cost, funding and lack of opportunity for public response as concerns.
“I would hate for the City Council to make this decision before all the options are put out for the public,” said Stamey. “There are options of a temporary bridge at 1128 Williams Avenue, a permanent bridge at 1128 Williams Avenue and the option of keeping one lane open with a temporary bridge right next to the Church Street Bridge. The last option is what we did with the Keyser bridge. Why would we want to interrupt the neighborhood and fill it with traffic when we have such a great option that would work the same way as the successful Keyser Avenue Bridge conversion. I favor a three lane bridge at Church Street. The Keyser Avenue Bridge moves a lot more traffic with three lanes than it did two. I think we could see the same type of success at the Church Street Bridge if we chose the third option. After the Church Street Bridge repairs, I think we should focus on a bypass with a new bridge coming in near the north dam. I think this would be a real boom for Natchitoches.It could possibly open up areas for new neighborhoods and new commercial opportunities. We should encourage the State to help us move forward with the bypass. We need something that will connect Washington Street to Keyser Avenue. I feel that this is something that is very important that we need to encourage the State to get behind immediately.”
Let your voice be heard before the City Council meeting Monday, January 25th at 5:30 p.m. at the Arts Center. Those who wish to address the City Council should attend the pre-meeting at 5:00 p.m. In order to speak at the pre-meeting, you must fill out a form when you arrive. Citizens are also able to speak at the regular meeting when the agenda item is introduced.