Crews rebuilt an intersection in less than 80 days, which was 70 days ahead of schedule. The reconstruction comprised two thru lanes, two left-turn lanes, and a right-turn lane in all directions with signal upgrades. Photo: Chris Holeman, PE
Baton Rouge (La.) Deputy Public Works Director Bryan Harmon (left) and Mayor “Kip” Holden tour the site of a thruway that will link Baton Rouge with the city of Central, a $70 million project encompassing nine separate projects. The improvements also provide a flood evacuation route. Photo: David Humphreys
Through the issuance of several stages of bonds, the city-parish could roll out projects concurrently and in quick succession, with the overall program backed by the steady revenue stream from the dedicated 25-year sales and use tax. This approach also paved the way for the city-parish to buy right of way as needed, and assured utilities that the government would have enough money to complete the projects with which they were involved.SHAPING THE PLAN
“A sizeable backlog of projects had been on the books for years before this administration,” says Public Works Director Pete Newkirk. “We needed to identify which projects would be covered under this program and determine the priority in which we would complete each.”
To accomplish this, the mayor staged a two-day summit of transportation professionals from around the region. About a dozen invited firms reviewed each project on the books, including the proposed new streets and roadways in the Baton Rouge Master Plan. The teams collaborated on final recommendations based on cost, feasibility, right-of-way concerns, and other potential obstacles. These recommendations formed a roadmap to define which projects would be included in the plan, their priorities, and the implementation schedule.
The administration branded the plan with a logo — a green light traffic signal — to represent speed, efficiency, and progressiveness. The name “Green Light Plan” was adopted from the title of the Mayor's Transition Team report on quicker ways to solve congestion.
Projects in hand, public works and the city-parish administration began soliciting feedback from the public and from Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council members.
Three rounds of meetings in each of the 12 parish council districts allowed stakeholders to view the proposals and receive full disclosure about how each would affect their districts. Comments prompted tweaks to project plans, right-of-way relocations, and other minor changes.
Not surprisingly, most objections during the vetting process centered on a project's proposed impact on homeowner or business properties. While the designers had strived to minimize right-of-way acquisitions, some loss of private property was inevitable. Public works worked through this process with as much flexibility as possible. Each project would be finalized at a later date with design plans that included as few right-of-way acquisitions as possible.
Overall, though, residents and businesses supported the concept and wanted to get going. The proposed “Green Light Plan for East Baton Rouge Parish” was put on the ballot in the fall of 2005. Almost 70% of residents voted in favor of the $820 million plan to deliver 42 road-improvement projects in five years. In October 2007, city-parish officials broke ground on the Veterans Memorial Boulevard Extension, the first project to begin construction and, in October 2008, the first to be completed.
“We needed to build confidence that we could move projects from approval to design and construction more quickly,” Holden says. “In addition to clearing bottlenecks that were contributing to congestion, it's allowed us to make provisions for better pedestrian and bicycle access, safer intersections, landscaping, and an overall better traffic flow.”MANAGING ALL THE ELEMENTS
Recognizing that a program of this scope requires dedicated personnel as well as programmatic, timely resources, the city-parish administration retained a local program management and civil engineering firm.
“Our director of public works and his top-level staff are responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of daily tasks and processes,” says current city-parish Chief Administrative Officer Mike Futrell. “They're not geared up to do the daily work of programs like this that include special projects. The project managers for this program wake up every day with this as their primary goal.”
All of the pieces were now in place to bring projects on-line as quickly as they were being promised. Half are under way or completed, thanks to incentives coordinated by public works. The contract model, which included early-completion bonuses and penalties for road closures, is being applied to other key projects.
The program reached the early stages of construction post-Hurricane Katrina with a significant decrease in material costs and increasing contractor competitiveness. More recently, competition intensified further as private-sector project starts fell. The involvement of more than 85 local firms and creation of hundreds of new jobs puts Baton Rouge consistently among the top 10 areas for construction-job growth nationwide.
“We've started and finished more projects than we ever could have come close to. We're ahead of schedule and under budget,” says Monsour. “Everything we touted and advertised has been right on. We've under-promised and over-performed, and we'll continue to do that.”
— Snow is a consultant with the Green Light Plan Community Awareness Firm, SSA Consultants LLC, also of Baton Rouge. Bryan Harmon, PE, and Brad Ponder, PE, also contributed to this article. Harmon is deputy director and chief engineer of the Baton Rouge Department of Public Works in Louisiana. Ponder is Green Light Plan program manager for CSRS Inc., Baton Rouge.
To learn how Baton Rouge got potential competitors to collaborate on prioritizing projects, visit here