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|OCOG divvies up $8.3M in stimulus money|
Ouachita Council of Governments agreed on how to spend some $8.3 million in federal highway funding it will receive thanks to a recently approved economic stimulus package.
A special meeting was held noon Monday to review proposed road projects submitted by the cities of Monroe and West Monroe and Ouachita Parish Police Jury.
OCOG agreed to use $2.77 million for road projects in West Monroe; $2.75 million for Monroe's road projects; and $2.74 million for the police jury's road projects.
The projects in West Monroe include improvements on South 5th Street, Trenton Street, Travis Street, Crosley Street, Wellerman Drive and North 7th Street.
Monroe's road projects include improvements on Oliver Road, Lamy Lane, Washington Street and Walnut Street.
The police jury will use its funding to improve Good Hope Road, Dellwood Drive, Louisiana Avenue and Vancil Road.
The three public entities have identified "back-up" projects that could be tackled if additional money was allocated to OCOG, or if other projects fall through.
The back-up projects in West Monroe include improvements at Downing Pines Road, Coleman Street and Trenton Street in downtown West Monroe. These three projects total $4.3 million.
Monroe has Riverside Drive, North 19th Street, Orange Street and Central Avenue (and return loop) as alternative projects. They total $6.19 million.
The police jury selected a number of back-up projects, including additional work along Dellwood Drive, Green Road, Laird Street, Hadley Street, and improvements along two portions of Caples Road. These projects total $7.1 million.
Each Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in the state with a population under 200,000 residents will get approximately $8.3 million in federal highway funding for road projects.
In Ouachita Parish, OCOG serves as the area's MPO.
Representatives from West Monroe, Monroe and the police jury sit on OCOG's board.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said it was important for people to know that not every street in Ouachita Parish was eligible for work through federal highway appropriations. Only streets included in the Urban Systems Program are eligible for work utilizing federal highway monies.
"So, there might be some streets in need of repair much more than these are, but they're not eligible for the use of those funds," Norris said.
Local streets have to meet certain criteria to be included in Louisiana's Urban Systems Program.
Parish engineer Don Harrison explained recently at a police jury meeting that federal funding generated by the economic stimulus package would be distributed to the state through the Department of Transportation and Development. The funding then would be funneled to local government.
"The only program that does that, as far as channeling highway funds, is the Urban Systems Program," he said.
According to North Delta Regional Planning and Development representatives, projects must be "shovel-ready" within 90 to 120 days of March 4 to be eligible for stimulus funding.
Also, North Delta representatives told OCOG that if any of the three local governmental entities failed to allocate money for its road projects, that portion of funding would be returned to the state.
"They (state) seem rather anxious to take it back," said North Delta executive director David Creed.
Norris added, "So it is in our best interest to approve something and then really go to work on it."
If any of the three governmental entities has a problem with beginning their proposed projects, funding could be reallocated to any of the back-up projects so federal dollars would remain in Ouachita Parish, Creed said.