by Elliott Stonecipher
Our Metropolitan Planning Commission convened yesterday to write the latest chapter in the saga of the intended demise of the LA Hwy. 3132 Extension. Bossier City Councilman and real estate developer Tim Larkin tried once more for MPC approval of even more home lots in his swanky Esplanade subdivision in Southeast Shreveport. For the third time, and with heightened importance, the MPC voted to protect a yet-undetermined Extension route to the Port of Caddo-Bossier.
For any who do not know the history, city fathers and planners first dreamed on paper about this highway 60 years ago, and its existence became real enough for a researcher to recognize in our city’s 1956 master plan. Various kinds of studies of possible routes were completed in 1969 and 1973, and when the Port of Caddo-Bossier became the city’s most urgent wish, it was clear the “loop” – part I-220, and part LA Hwy. 3132 – must terminate there. Well, at least until a bridge over Red River at the Port allowed it to then progress through south Bossier parish, and up to an I-20 tie-in near Haughton.
(* More detail of the project’s history, and the attempted erasure of the Extension, is included below, and available at Finish3132.com. Virtually all of the required investigation and reporting on the Coalition website is mine, and any complaints may be directed to me. This work has been a community service passion for me – purely pro bono – since May 2011.)
The MPC Yesterday
The board of the MPC has voted twice before on this matter, rejecting Larkin’s like applications 9-0 and 7-0, and the City Council has done likewise. Even with Larkin’s virtual partner in the deal, Mayor Glover, giving the developer everything he needs from city departments, too many people know the Extension to the Port is our community’s priority, and need. We are in Glover and Larkin’s way … that is really what this is all about.
Yesterday might have been different. With some new members among the board’s total of nine, and with key, top MPC staffers apparently (improperly) supportive of Larkin, who knew what would happen? As the meeting opened, it was clear that two members who had previously and consistently voted to protect the Extension were not going to show. The fight was, in critical ways, worse than ever, with Larkin going so far as to say that the Coalition, not he, was endangering the Extension, something NLCOG’s Rogers has been saying publicly, and to The (Shreveport) Times and other news media for months.
In truth, the Larkin forces are angry that there is a federal court suit at issue. The Coalition has asked the court to order NLCOG, the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development (LA DOTD), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to re-do the Stage 0 Study of remaining route options. This followed the Coalition’s discovery of irrefutable evidence – routes and explanatory emails from LA DOTD personnel – of routes which would protect surrounding homeowners – such as Twelve Oaks homeowners. The critical difference in these routes is that they would require Larkin’s land. They were, thus, deliberately withheld from the public. The lots Larkin asked yesterday to be approved were dead within any remaining available route from Flournoy-Lucas to the Port. His Esplanade is the only undeveloped land available for construction of the Extension.
When the smoke cleared yesterday, five of the seven MPC board members again voted to reject Larkin’s attempt. Board Chairwoman Lea Desmarteau, and members Nancy Cooper, Alan Young, Ronnie Remedies and Dr. Phillip Pennywell, Jr., voted to protect the Extension’s chance to be built. Miss Bessie Smith and Winzer Andrews voted with Larkin. Members Dale Colvin and Larry Ferdinand did not attend.
The Real Point
What was never said yesterday, and will never be confirmed by those who could and should do so, is that the Esplanade development and its owners will soon lose their partner (by varied definition), Mayor Glover, when he leaves office this year. Too, the MPC will soon have, for the first time in decades, a professional planner at its helm, likely with top staff members of her or his choosing. Such a new professional staff will not need to guard against public / legal exposure of facts explaining how residential developments have been built or begun atop the preferred route from the 1992 study. (Then-Councilman Glover was on that study committee.)
In other words, all the facts and detail of precisely how a “fix” to surrender the Extension’s land to profiteers was accomplished is 99% certain to be a key result of an un-rigged Stage 0 Study. NLCOG, LA DOTD, FHWA and City Hall – that we know of – refuse to conduct an open and unrestricted public hearing into the facts … and for obvious reasons. Thus the litigation Larkin and his team so loudly decry. Had NLCOG not “lost” the public comments of one supposed “public hearing,” and withheld critical and stunning route options from the interested and impacted citizenry in the next “public hearing,” there would be no legal basis for litigation. When public officials choose to travel down such a road of concealment rather than transparency, we are precisely where a healthy and honest community must arrive.
I know how difficult yesterday’s hearing was for MPC board members who are, after all, community volunteers. Their service is noted, appreciated, and a template for others in our community who thus serve the rest of us rather than themselves. They – and we, on behalf of the public – did not even know about yesterday’s hearing until eight days ago, thanks to Larkin’s application being submitted in the name of his engineer rather than himself.
Such deception is, putting it politely, the hallmark of the past 15 years of work to get the 3132 Extension built.
Finish 3132 Coalition
* In 1992, the most comprehensive route study was conducted. Just four years later, in 1996, Shreveport voters went to the polls to put up $3.5 million of their own money for bonds to finish the project from Bert Kouns Industrial Loop “to the Port.” The specific ballot language specified “the Port,” and the vote was clear, 64% to 36% “yes.” In 1999, the first tract of land south of Flournoy-Lucas, clearly confirming where the final four-mile segment to the Port would proceed, was purchased by the city.
In 2000, more than four decades of work and dreaming ran aground as the Twelve Oaks subdivision was built atop – yes, right on top – that preferred corridor. Though federal money was available to buy the land which would become the final leg, it somehow wasn’t. Then in 2004, Kent Rogers, the bossman of our transportation planning agency, NLCOG (Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments) and the then-MPC, inexplicably moved the route across Bayou Pierre, to its Railsback Road side. Two years later, upon the election of Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, Larkin set about to build his Esplanade subdivision dead within that new route. No one stopped him, and Glover and his city engineering folks helped in every way possible … and continue to do so.
Thus, the last available land for the route was set up to be devoured by yet another profit-making venture. Then, the coup d’ grace, these actors believed: on April 7, 2011, in an NLCOG meeting called for that sole purpose, Larkin and Glover and Rogers proposed the outright termination of the Extension. Only one NLCOG Executive Committee member voted “no,” a retiring highway department engineer who knew the history and facts. Most believe it was he, too, who alerted the media to the hush-hush “public” meeting.
The Finish 3132 Coalition was quickly formed by Willis-Knighton Health System owing to safety considerations of those retiring to its Flournoy-Lucas Road development, The Oaks of Louisiana. I came aboard as a new homeowner in Twelve Oaks, and some 800+ subsequently joined. Now, three years later, Larkin continues his non-stop effort to build his Esplanade dead within any possible Extension route. The danger to residents and others from the constantly increasing high-speed truck traffic to and from the Port is inarguable.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.