Robideaux proposes moving city road dollars to regional stormwater diversion

Waters in a drainage canal creep up to the underside of a bridge in Lafayette Parish Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: In his outgoing budget, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux proposes moving $7.5 million in current bond dollars to pay for drainage.

The full package proposes $46 million to “stormwater diversion.” The bulk of that proposed transfer — just under $39 million — comes from dollars earmarked for an extension of South City Parkway. Those monies are not part of any existing bond package. In a sense, they’re only theoretical. 

Here’s what’s would be cut:

  • Louisiana Avenue Extension: $7.1 million
  • Robley Drive Extension: $424,000  
  • South City Parkway Extension: $39 million 

Transfers from Louisiana Avenue and Robley Drive would take effect in the next fiscal year. That’s $7.5 million in monies more or less immediately available for the undefined stormwater diversion project or projects. The rest would be subject to the priorities of the next administration and city council. 

“I have worked hard to find ways to fund drainage projects without raising anyone’s taxes,” Robideaux wrote in an email to council members ahead of Tuesday’s budget meeting, “and without incurring more debt and costing taxpayers millions in interest costs.”

There’s a double whammy here. Roadway expansions, especially big ones like South City Parkway, can directly and indirectly add stormwater runoff. Any new concrete pushes water faster into drainage canals. And new roads, especially suburban ones, in turn spur more development. 

Robideaux both questions and emphasizes the merit of the road projects. In the email, he points to low traffic counts on Louisiana Avenue, public resistance on the Robley project and the possibility that extending South City Parkway would increase traffic on Kaliste Room Road as knocks against those projects. But he summarily insists the projects are generally worth considering. LCG has spent $2 million on South City Parkway since 2016, roughly half of that acquiring properties. 

Stormwater diversion is likely regional detention. Frederick Trahan, who supervises drainage projects for LCG, characterizes the proposal as preliminary, saying discussions are only just now getting underway. By regional, he means projects that benefit the whole of Lafayette Parish, not connected to specific developments.

“The biggest thing for me is that my district has an overwhelming amount of drainage needs,” Councilwoman Liz Hebert tells me. South City Parkway and Robley Drive are in her district. She says she’d like to see those dollars allocated to drainage projects in her district, given that they would have been extracted from it. “We’ve had a ton of work done,” she says, “but we still have a long way to go.” 

What to watch for: Budget negotiations. Robideaux is likely to get pushback from council members who fought to get those road projects funded in the first place. And there remains a question as to what drainage projects would be funded by the windfall. Robideaux himself won’t be around to spend it.