By Rose E. Thorn
Train delays have been plaguing the Pan-Am and Town South subdivisions since they were built.The two are not connected and both have only one way in and out which is over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Residents are trapped when a train is passing or stopped on the tracks. Pan-Am was built in the 1930’s-1940’s and Town South was built in the 1960’s-1970’s. They were both built as Federal Housing projects. Combined, they have over 140 lots. If these subdivisions were built today, they would be connected or possibly not have been built in this location at all.
“We didn’t have the ordinances back when these places were built that we have now,” said District Two Councilman Dale Nielson.
Residents have been fighting for a second exit road for 20 years.Nielson has been aware of the need for a new road for the subdivisions since he campaigned for councilman six years ago. The issues with the train came to a head in 2014 when a train blocked the exit of the Pan-Am subdivision for seven hours.
Currently the City Council is making headway towards a new access road. The plan is to connect the two subdivisions so that the new access road will provide an exit for both subdivisions and not just one. The access road will intersect with Mill Street.
“Part of it may be paved, part of it may be gravel,” said Nielson.“Our first priority is safety. The road will allow access to first response vehicles and allow residents to come and go.”
Therein lies the problem, will residents truly be able to “come and go?” The Department of Transportation and Development will not not allow the road to become permanently open because the intersection with Mill Street is at an “S” Curve.This means that the only access to the subdivisions that does not pass over railroad tracks will be under lock and key.
“They want to lock us up like we are animals,” said resident Joella Wilson. “If you’re going to build a road do it right. We want a normal road in our community like they have in other communities. We want to be treated like everyone else. We don’t want to feel like we are locked in. It may be an access road but it is still controlled, placing us in a controlled environment. We don’t want to be controlled. We are not prisoners. We are not slaves. We want to be free and feel free. This road is not what we want.”
Whitney Wolfe works at the gas station across from the subdivisions. “The train blocks those tracks about once a month,” said Wolfe. “It will completely just stop in front of the entrances. It is something that has always been a problem. I feel like this new road is a waste of time and money if the people can’t use it when they want to.”
The residents of Pan-Am feel an overall lack of support for their community. “Why don’t we have a sign that says Pan-Am,” asked resident John Roe. “Why don’t we have trees and fountains? Why don’t we have proper drainage? They don’t care about us, they don’t give a damn about us just like that Michael Jackson record. They want to lock us in so there is no escape when the police come.”
Some residents are willing to put up with the gate because it allows access to first response vehicles. “There are elderly ladies in here and small children,” said resident James W. Johnson. “If they need an ambulance it would be a good thing. If you get sick and need to go to the hospital, you could make it up to the tracks just to lay up there and die. Nobody wants to die like that. I think it would be nice if they just go ahead and do it. I’m okay with them locking it.”
The City Council still needs to work out a few kinks before the interconnector and access road become a reality. Attempts to create a second exit for these subdivisions have fallen through in the past. Listening to the concerns of the residents leaves one wondering if there will ever be an answer to the subdivisions problems.
The Natchitoches Parish Journal received this submission from Rose E. Thorn. The views and opinions expressed are those of Ms. Thorn and not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal. If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.