By Corey Poole
Residents in Natchitoches Parish are at a loss when it comes to the failed asphalt roads they live and drive on. This is where the rubber meets the road, quite literally. There are several issues that stem from the poor road conditions and residents are quick to tell you about them. And everywhere you go in the Parish, from the top to the bottom and the East to the West, the details differ, but the issues remain the same.
The biggest issue is accessibility. Residents say ambulances have a hard time reaching their homes that are on muddy roads, filled with miles of craggy terrain. While one resident said their father had to lay on the ground for two hours after the fell off his roof before an ambulance could reach him, another homeowner said their neighbor’s wife had to drive her husband, who was having a heart attack, out of their community to the nearest state highway to meet the ambulance there. Larry Atteridge, EMS Director for the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, refused to comment.
The second issue is the amount of money people are spending on automotive repair.
Roy Mobley of Ham’s Auto Clinic said potholes cause tire damage, stress cords and treads, rupture struts and shocks and can even bend wheels. Stressed tires can also lead to dangerous blowouts on the interstate.
“These rough roads beat up cars,” said Roy, who lives in Ashland and drives a truck because of the healthier suspension and larger tires.
Doing alignment work in Natchitoches for 30 years now, he’s seen more suspension damage from the roads than from normal wear and tear on a car. However, he said 60 years ago people took more pride in their roads before there were increases in technology and the average amount of traffic. He also said the knowledge of how to maintain the roads was never passed down as it should have been.
“Just because I know how to drive a tractor doesn’t mean I can grade a road,” he said.
Maybe we should all take a lesson from Roy’s former boss, Mr. Ham himself, who had one rule he lived by: the six “P” principle (Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). But this seems to be the problem with the entire Parish, a lack of preventative maintenance through the years.
Roy also agreed that with residents being taxed so hard already, they just want to see where their money goes.
A third issue is the inaccessibility for school buses. Director of the Durham Bus Services, Jason Edwards, said he understands the challenge the Parish Government faces with the amount of miles of road they cover. He said that while he would hate to see more money coming out of everyone’s pockets, a tax set up to go straight to the roads would be beneficial.
Perhaps the most overlooked issue is the frustration of living on and driving down these roads on a day-to-day basis. Dewayne Trichel and his neighbors John and Sue Hodgson can attest to this. Dewayne owns two homes on Pardee Road and can’t sell one, which he blames on the road conditions in the area. He’s dropped the listing from $320,000 to $180,000.
“I wouldn’t mind paying more taxes if we knew where it goes,” he said. “But we don’t trust the Parish Government.”
Lindsey Evans Brown agrees. Her parents, Candice and Kirby Evans, live off of the Mora-Kisatchie Road. Lindsey said when taxes are put on a ballot, they need to be more specific.
Residents need to know their money is going directly into a road construction account.
“Residents are tired of paying taxes and not knowing where it goes,” said Candice.
While informing residents is one challenge the Parish Government faces, another seems to be road maintenance in general.
Patchwork holds, but it doesn’t solve the problem, according to Lindsey. Having worked in highway construction, she says the solution is to cut ditches to improve drainage, raise the road height, lime it to dry, soil cement it and then put white rock down, which compacts better. This would make the roads easier to maintain. Asphalt just doesn’t work with the type of soil and red clay found in the Parish.
When the weather is dry the roads are nothing but a top layer of dust and when it rains, the roads turn into slop. The red clay only serves to make them slicker.
“It’s not a matter of what the road is made of,” said Edwards. “It depends on how capable the highway department is to maintain it.”
Candice, who’s worked on roads in Louisiana for DOTD in the past says if you don’t fix the road base, then it’s irrelevant what you put on top of it. “If it’s not done correctly then you’re wasting your money,” she said.
However, a solution seems out of reach when the budget isn’t big enough, and not a single road is paying enough taxes to get them fixed in the first place. It costs around $270,000 per mile to overlay a road. The road budget is $3 million. If one road (2.1 miles) costs $500,000, where is the money going to come from to overlay all the roads that need it. The Parish is currently looking into the feasibility of scarifying roads that are considered “failed.”
There’s no question that the Parish Government doesn’t have the funds needed to reconstruct the failing paved roads. The unknown is whether the Parish has the funds needed to maintain the additional miles of roads should they be returned to gravel.
“The Parish is fighting a battle someone else has already messed up,” said Edwards, referring to blacktop overlays authorized by the Police Jury before the Homerule Charter and the formation of the Parish Council. The overlays were put over old blacktop and pot holes, which was a waste of time and money.
“It’s like sending someone to a sword fight without a sword,” he said.
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