Special Report: SWLA Traffic Troubles

Special Report: SWLA Traffic Troubles

CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - '"Kristen Harrell is a traveling teacher in Calcasieu Parish. She lives in Lake Charles, spends mornings at Sulphur High and then goes to Sam Houston High in Moss Bluff in the afternoons. It's a long day.

"Traffic from Sulphur into Lake Charles is fairly bad because of people being let off from the plants," Harrell said. "Traffic from Lake Charles into Moss Bluff in the afternoon is horrible, because of people leaving Lake Charles work, going to Moss Bluff back to their houses. Thankfully, in the afternoon I'm going in the opposite direction. I'm going from Moss Bluff back into Lake Charles, so it's not too bad. But I do see bad, bad traffic."

With major construction in several areas, she's noticed a big difference in the traffic over the last year or so.

"I've been run off the road a couple times, it happened twice. I mean an 18-wheeler, I was boxed in, that happens a lot. Obviously, a truck didn't see me. At the time I was driving a smaller vehicle."

Every day she consults her smartphone to plan the best route.

"I use Google Maps," Harrell said. "You can also use Waze. Sometimes I'll use that one as well. But just immediately show me where is there congestion.

She thinks the interstate system is deficient.

"Obviously the bridges need to be fixed," she said. "I mean, oh my gosh, everyone knows that. Everyone knows that the 210 and I-10 are scary. There's no shoulder on either one. So if there is an emergency, traffic is totally shut down."

In more rural areas, such as La. 27 south of Sulphur, major industrial construction and road projects are a headache for drivers.

"I deal with it every day, coming to work and going home, and then I have kids that play sports and then coming back to town is very hard," said Kevin Fills. "It takes us about an hour to get back into town. It's usually about a fifteen- or twenty-minute trip before all this traffic started, and it's just gotten worse over the last two years"

And in some cases, traffic hurts businesses.

"They just don't want to get out of traffic and come in and get their supplies or whatever they want, and have to fight to get back on," explained Sarah Broussard, with Marshland Tobacco and Beer.

The store is on La. 27 where there's construction to widen the road and heavy traffic due to the construction of the LNG facility in Hackberry.

The situation frustrates locals and temporary workers.

"It really causes a lot of stress and just anger. Everybody's honking, everybody just trying to go somewhere and can't even go nowhere," said Heath Chambers, a temporary worker in the Westlake area.

Dick Gremillion, with the Calcasieu Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, says despite complaints, the roads aren't suited for the increased traffic. He says infrastructure doesn't happen overnight.

"Unfortunately if you look at the bubble of when the construction's going to happen and when the people are going to be in town and when the people are going to leave, if we started thinking about a project right now everybody probably would be gone by the time the construction is done," said Gremillion.

He admits it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

"The 210 project is going to cause the 210 corridor to go down to two lanes for a period of almost three years, which will further aggravate some of these traffic problems we're talking about," said Gremillion.

And as law enforcement predicted several years back, he says wrecks are up in some areas.

"I know, for example, Lake Charles Police Department has reported the last two years that their accidents have increased by twenty-five percent," said Gremillion.

Police Juror Judd Bares represents the Carlyss area.

"There's the locals who are not used to the numbers and then there's the out-of-towners who are not used to the roads," he said.

Both Bares and Gremillion agree the best thing drivers can do is adapt.

"You're going to have to change," Bares said. "What I would say to people is you're going to have to change driving habits. You're going to have to change your routine. That's the only thing that we can affect."

"This traffic problem's here to stay," said Gremillion. "We've been blessed the last few years with relatively light traffic. Now it's going to require planning on your part to get to where you need to go on time."

Bares recommends what he calls his rule of five.

"Give yourself five more minutes. Give yourself five more feet between you and the car in front of you and maybe slow down five miles an hour."

Gremillion agrees in some spots the estimated drive time is double or more:

"You know the roads are congested. Is there an alternate route you can take? You also need to be thinking about how long is it going to take to get wherever I need to go now."

Overnight fixes are in short supply. As Bares puts it: "We are the only part of this equation that we can control."

Harrell has found one bright spot: " I guess you could say it's done wonders for my prayer life. though."

A worker village in one area and park-and-ride lots in others help reduce traffic in some spots.

In Sulphur, Mayor Chris Duncan says some intersections have been modified to improve traffic flow - for example Maplewood Drive and Prater Road.

"It was just a two-lane road that ended on Prater," Duncan said. "Now there's turning lanes and there's going to be a red light, too. And that's all paid for by the Axial deal, DOTD and Calcasieu Parish agreement."

And he says they have changed traffic lights and signalization to improve traffic flow and safety.

Calcasieu Parish Administrator Bryan Beam agrees that, where possible, the parish is revamping intersections, adding roundabouts and accelerating plans to alleviate congestion.

"Intersection improvements are more affordable and you get a lot of bang for the buck," he said. "We certainly want to widen some roads, but you get more benefits from doing intersections first and then if you have the funds you can follow up with the widening. And we've got those planned throughout the parish."

The state highway department (DOTD) recently announced a project partly funded by Sasol to make traffic lights more sensitive to traffic problems.

Some drivers are skeptical, though.

"Sometimes it takes us an hour, hour-and-a-half to get four, maybe five miles, to get back on the highway, get back to the motel," said Heath Chambers, a temporary worker from out of town. "It's just ridiculous man. I don't know how you people around here deal with it."

There are ways to look at the week ahead to identify closures and construction projects. Gremillion says they put out a weekly traffic report.

And remember, reckless driving to save five minutes can bring a lifetime of regret.

"They just absolutely came over, did not see me. And had I stayed there, I'd have been road kill," said Harrell, remembering one time when a truck ran her off the road.

Which brings into focus the need for patience, perhaps, above all else, as Southwest Louisiana's traffic troubles continue.

For links to transportation planning in our area that extends into the next decade click here. Calcasieu traffic reports that provide week ahead traffic advisories are found on OHSEP's Facebook Page. Here is a recent traffic report.

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