Johnston Street do-over, a piece at a time

A section of Johnston Street may be redesigned under a state pilot program. (Photo: Advertiser file photo)

More than 15 years ago, Lafayette residents put down on paper their visions for a new Johnston Street. They saw the busy, cluttered road as a boulevard with trees in the middle, special lanes for city buses, improved sidewalks, better lighting and underground power lines.

Their visions were compiled and published in 2001 a little blue booklet called “Johnston Street: Challenging the Strip,” which has been shelved ever since, in part due to a lack of money.

A scaled-down version of that plan may finally become reality in a few years, at least along a one-mile section of Johnston Street, as a state Department of Transportation and Development pilot project.

“When we started discussions back up with DOTD, we decided to pick just a pilot area where a lot of the original inertia had come from for the project years ago and we decided let’s not try to build the Cadillac version where we have to take a lot of right of way,” said Kevin Blanchard, Lafayette Consolidated Government public works director. “We don’t have room for a 150-foot wide Johnston Street with bus lanes and bike lanes and all.”

The pilot project will focus on the section of Johnston Street between Cajundome Boulevard (just west of Blackham Coliseum) and Holden Avenue (just west of the horse farm), said Deidra Druilhet, DOTD public information officer.

It includes the intersection of Johnston and College Road, but excludes the coulees, which eliminates the need to build bridges, Blanchard said.

The pilot project originated with the Lafayette Metropolitan Planning Organization, which approached the DOTD because Johnston Street is a state highway, Druilhet said.

The project falls within the parameters of the DOTD’s complete streets policy, which seeks to balance the needs of all travelers, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and city transit users, she said.

It also will help slow down traffic, improving safety, Druilhet said.

“A lot of this has come about because of safety concerns,” said Melanie Bordelon, an engineer with the MPO.

For a five-lane roadway, Louisiana averages about 1.74 crashes per 1 million vehicle miles, Bordelon said. The Lafayette area has 8.3 crashes per million vehicle miles, nearly five times the state average, she said.

The DOTD conducted a feasibility study, lookin

The next step is an environmental study that includes preliminary engineering and public input, probably within a year,Bordelon said.g at traffic counts, crash data and the type of improvements that will work best in that area, and determined the project is doable, she said.

While design is still being worked out, Bordelon said the new and improved section of Johnston Street will be a boulevard with raised median and left turn bays at critical locations whose locations have not been determined, she said.

Sidewalks will probably be 8 feet wide and may be used for pedestrians and bicyclists, Bordelon said.

One thing that LCG leaders and many residents would like is for the overhead power lines to be buried.

Several years ago, Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval obtained an estimate to place the overhead lines underground. The estimate was about $20-25 million a mile, including high-voltage transmission lines and distribution lines, he said.

Under the pilot program, distribution lines will be buried but the high-voltage transmission lines will remain overhead on steel poles placed farther apart than the creosote poles currently used, Huval said.

That will cut the cost to about $5 million for the mile-long project, he said.

The DOTD will cover one-third of the pilot project cost with safety funds and one-third with access management program funds, Bordelon said. The MPO is putting up one-third, about $4.8 million, in federal money, she said.

It will probably be a few years before construction actually begins, Druilhet said.

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