Perhaps it’s laconic irony that a tortoise apparently played a role in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determining a route that would be eligible for permitting for the much-maligned Louisiana Highway 3241 project.
Considering the project was originally hatched in 1989, clearly the speed of the process matched that of the watery critter.
But the mere suggestion that a gopher tortoise, which is considered an endangered species, could stonewall economic growth across two parishes is sadistic commentary on the absurdity shrouding this project since its inception when legendary state Sen. B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn was still at the zenith of his reign.
The Corps’ announcement that less preferred Route Q was the one eligible for permitting for the highway, which if ever completed, would provide a four-lane road from Washington Parish to Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish, stupefied elected officials as well as the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
The discouraging news, discouraging because many believe the selection of Route Q over the preferred Route P effectively kills the project, was devastating in Washington Parish in particular because for years leaders have been heralding Highway 3241 as the economic elixir for an area mired in financial doldrums.
Washington Parish President Richard Thomas said he was disappointed with the decision and had what he called a “gut feeling” the highway would not be completed.
On the positive side, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise enthustically welcomed the news and said he would hold all involved accountable for eventually finishing the road. Of course, Scalise is the same politico who two years ago sat in Thomas’ office and said, in response to a question from a Daily News reporter, that parish residents would be driving on the new Highway 3241 within five years. Not likely.
Realistically, the chances are slim the project, which had morphed into nothing more than a dustball on the Corps shelves, will ever be constructed for myriad of reasons. Consider that Route Q, which follows an abandoned railroad track near Slidell and travels north to Talisheek, is 4.5 miles longer than the preferred Route P, which ran through a largely undeveloped area of St. Tammany, before connecting with Louisiana Highway 21 near Bush.
Because the process has been so lengthy, development has already occurred on Route Q, and as it stands now the road would run through an animal shelter and a relatively new coroner’s office. Obviously modifications will be required, adding to the tally.
Route Q also displaces 19 residences, compared to 5 for Route P, fueling the meter even more. Factor in mitigation and other costs, and let’s not forget about our tortoise, and the project becomes cost prohibitive.
Thomas was correct in his assessment when he said Route Q made no sense.
So who’s to blame?
Naturally, it starts with the Corps. Bureaucratic morass delayed the project far too long and had not Scailse intervened two years ago it would have landed in the agency’s wastebasket.
Those same delays allowed for development, both residential and commercial, which never would have been an issue if the process had been speedier. The Corps through the years also never seemed to deliver straightforward answers for the delays; rather they spoke in bureaucratic gobbly-gook and scheduled endless public hearings.
Legislators as a whole must also shoulder some of the blame. They should have been more vocal throughout the process, especially as the other projects approved in the 1989 bill came to fruition while 3241 gathered mothballs.
And finally some residents of St. Tammany deserve to be taken to the woodshed, for their behavior toward the residents of Washington Parish during a public hearing in September was arrogant and demeaning. While taking a pious attidue about new development destroying the charm of St. Tammany Parish, many of these same morose individuals previously caused similar disruptions during their own migration from New Orleans during the past two decades.
As usual, Washington Parish comes out on the short end of dealing with a governmental agency. And St. Tammany residents once again manipulate a favorable outcome.
So what’s new?
Washington Parish once again comes up short