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|Teen pleads with police jurors to repair Caples Road|
A West Ouachita teen on Monday asked the Ouachita Parish Police Jury to consider relinquishing Caples Road to the state.
Last month, 16-year-old Stefan Shauf died in an automobile accident on Caples Road, which leads to West Ouachita High School.
"This is just one of many serious fatalities that have occurred on this road due to poor overall conditions," Christian Whitton told the police jury during its public works meeting.
"Caples Road is without a doubt one of the most dangerous roads in the area," Whitton said. "It suffers from uneven pavement, poor foundation, random potholes, no shoulders, narrow lanes and hilly terrain."
Whitton gave the police jury a study, which stated that improvements such as widening the road, or adding a shoulder, would reduce overall accidents by 40 percent.
"I know the parish may not currently have necessary funds to complete this project, and while there may not be an answer today, now would be the time to make the proper arrangements to make this happen," Whitton said.
Parish engineer Don Harrison said Caples Road is a main collector street in southwestern Ouachita Parish. The length of the road is about 7.6 miles.
"Because it is so long, we have broken it into seven different segments that we evaluate routinely under the parish road program for any improvements," Harrison said.
Harrison explained that the parish has a pavement management system, which the police jury uses to identify the functional classification of each road in the parish.
"Based on those classifications and rating criteria such as structural conditions and traffic, we arrive at a score for each road in the parish," Harrison said. "Based on that score, compared to other roads of comparable conditions, we set a priority list which is used to extend funds to improve the roads."
Every road in the parish maintains is considered under that system. Parish funds to improve local roads are disbursed based on the priorities achieved by this system.
"All of these segments of Caples Road are classified as collectors, and there's about 160 different roads and road segments that are classified as collectors," Harrison continued. "Different segments of Caples rank from a high of 31 to a low of 159 (on the priority list).
"Of all the collector roads in the parish, that's how they compare as far as how we'd disburse the local funds. So you're still looking at several years before they (Caples Road segments) will actually come up in the priority list where we can expend the public local funds on those roads."
Caples Road is part of the parish's long-range transportation plan for a proposed loop highway system in Ouachita Parish.
"That (loop) may never happen, but a major part of Caples Road falls on that loop alignment," Harrison said. "With that in mind, we've placed Caples Road in the local transportation network, so it's eligible for federal funding through DOTD."
Caples Road was placed in the local road improvement program about three years ago.
"It takes many, many years for projects to come to the surface and be prioritized and have funds available," Harrison said. "We have no way of knowing when (funding will be available)."
Over the last several years, the police jury striped all of Caples Road at a cost of $65,000.
"We're aware of the condition of the road," Harrison said. "We look at it on a priority basis, compared to other roads in the parish, based on funds available, and we're doing everything that can be done to make sure this is taken care of appropriately."
District B police juror Mack Calhoun commended Whitton for his efforts and encouraged him to continue with his work to better the community. Calhoun said he will continue to discuss the issue with state and federal officials to obtain funding sources to make needed improvements on Caples Road.
Speaking to Whitton, police jury president Walt Caldwell said, "I understand the desire and the need that you have to do something with this, and I hope you understand that nobody here is being callous.
"Just like every government of the United States, there's only so much money we have, and it has to be spent in a certain way. The system Mr. Harrison has is not perfect, but it's a good system.
"I've watched Mr. Calhoun lobby for this, and it's never far from his mind to try and improve that road. No one is trying to pass this off, but there are conditions in the system that make these changes that you want difficult, but it is something we're working on."