By Peter Jenkins
Traffic. It’s the one thing that turns even the best of people into angry demons on the roadways. For years there have been complaints regarding congestion rates both around the city and on I-10. For about the same number of years politicians have promised that they are going to make it their mission to improve these conditions to make our commutes better. These complaints are well warranted according to Scott Kirkpatrick, the new Executive Director of Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS).
CRISIS is a newly formed coalition organization made of area businesses who believe that infrastructure and transportation issues are hurting their bottom line. “CRISIS members have complained of increased freight costs as they try to move products through the Capital Region, a reduced labor pool resulting from increased congestion that has made some potential workers unwilling to commute across the region on a daily basis, industrial projects that have not located in the region in part due to the mobility problems in the Capital Region and quality of life issues that are making recruitment and retention more difficult” says Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick explains why businesses have formed this coalition by saying “The business community has not traditionally been a part of the Capitol Region’s mobility improvement efforts to the extent they should. CRISIS is focused on rallying the business community and inserting them in a significant manner into the broader mobility planning process in the Capitol Region.”
Baton Rouge was ranked as the third worst city in the county for traffic congestion, according to a transportation study conducted by Texas A&M released this past August. The same study concluded that motorists from the Capitol area spent 47 hours in traffic the previous year.
Dylan Waguespack, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator for Louisiana Progress says “the transportation infrastructure problems facing our state are formidable, but not insurmountable. It’s worth mentioning that while the state of our roads, highways, and bridges impacts the quality of life of all Louisianans, it has the greatest negative impact on low-income people.” Waguespack goes on to say that “businesses are being affected by these transportation and infrastructure deficiencies, but these changes cannot be successful without having a heavy focus on improving conditions for the average person just trying to get to work in the morning.”
Rosabeth Kanter, a professor at the Harvard Business School and author of the book Move, notes that Americans waste $2.9 billion on fuel being stuck in traffic each year. That traffic also causes $5.5 billion in lost productivity costs each year too. Being stuck in traffic makes workers less productive which directly hurts businesses as well.
In a recent Advocate article Cordell Haymon, senior vice president of SGS Petroleum Service Corp. says “CRISIS is responding to the need for a united leadership voice advocating for a comprehensive, regional approach to improving our transportation network that is driven by data — not politics.”
“To have a truly comprehensive approach to the transportation and infrastructure deficiencies our region is facing we must include people from all spectrums of life. Business leaders, non-profit leaders, working families, and the whole range of people that live and work in our area,” says Waguespack. “Without all of these people directly included in the effort we cannot have true structural reform that takes Baton Rouge from the third worst city for traffic to the best. The work CRISIS is doing is going to help move these issues forward because they add another voice to the already existing effort to improve conditions in Baton Rouge.”
Kirkpatrick discussed upcoming legislative possibilities and noted “We believe there is an opportunity for a Special Legislative Session item early this year on transportation that would put the funding in place to allow critical transportation projects to be built in Capitol region in the next four years.” However, he also says “major infrastructure projects are never easy to implement and they require strong leadership and a desire to do what is best for the region.”
It may still be years before drivers see major changes to their daily driving routes, but if groups like CRISIS are successful, they may see changes sooner, rather than later.