(The Daily Advertiser) – A section of Congress Street near downtown Lafayette is being downsized for safety, for pedestrian traffic and to spark economic development.
Along a .9-mile section of Congress Street from Evangeline Drive near University Avenue to Grant and Second streets workers are removing existing lane markings and re-striping the roadway.
For the most part, that section of Congress Street will have only two travels lanes, short turning lanes, pedestrian paths, improved crosswalks and on-street parking.
The contractor, Southern Synergy LLC, began the work Aug. 6 and is working only on weekends to minimize delays for motorists. The work should be finished in a few weeks, according to a news release from Lafayette Consolidated Government.
The 35 mph speed limit will probably be reduced, too.
The changes are part of the city’s comprehensive plan called PlanLafayette and the Downtown Action Plan. They’re designed to make the area more attractive and safe for pedestrians and bicyclists, and may spark redevelopment along the corridor.
Wilson Savoy’s house on the corner of Congress Street and Cedar Crest was hit by a car in December, causing $15,000 in damage. Another car involved in the same crash damaged a fence across the street. A motorcyclist hit a utility pole and was killed in the neighborhood and a car crashed and landed in his yard, Savoy said.
Part of the problem is motorists drive too fast and there’s no turn lane.
“Having a turning lane would help, but also forced slowing down of traffic would help,” Savoy said.
Bike lanes are needed, too, he said. In some place, utility poles are in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing bicyclists to ride in the street with the fast-moving traffic.
“The alternative for me is to build concrete pillars in my yard to stop a Sherman tank,” Savoy said.
According to Warren Abadie, LCG chief traffic engineer, data show a “significant” number of traffic crashed along that section of Congress Street, which carries about 16,000 vehicles a day. Studies show roadways with fewer than 20,000 vehicles per day can function properly with three lanes.
The Congress Street changes come at a time when two similar projects are drawing opposition.
Business owners along a section of Lafayette’s Moss Street are opposing plans to reduce that roadway to two travel lanes with a turn lane and bike lanes. They argue reducing the number of lanes will only increase congestion.
Representatives of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development have said in other places where similar projects have occurred, traffic accidents were reduced about 70 percent.
The DOTD is in charge of the project, but the request came from Lafayette Consolidated Government.
Another battle is taking place over bike lanes created by adding striping along West Bayou Parkway in Lafayette.
Biking enthusiasts presented City Hall with a petition signed by more than 2,000 people. But others oppose the bike lanes, saying they increase congestion and create a safety hazard.