Let’s Kill The Loop

It appears that Kip Holden’s pet project for the destruction of Livingston Parish is still alive and well. The Capital Area Expressway, generally known as “the Loop”, has arisen from the ashes once again.  Apparently, the first phase of the Environmental Impact Survey has been completed and it is time for another comment period.  I would urge all of you to make your opposition known.  The comment period ends on February 22.  Comments should be mailed to: Raul Regis, P.E., 10000 Perkins Rowe, Suite 640, Baton Rouge LA 70810.

I was also made privy this week to a letter from Congressman Garret Graves concerning this issue.  The tone of the letter seems to read like Rep. Graves thinks the Loop is the best thing since sliced bread. He needs to hear from you as well.  The following is the text of my letter to Graves. Feel free to use any or all of it in your comment to the Expressway Authority or to let Rep. Graves know how you feel.  Thanks for your support!

Hon. Garret Graves
United States House of Representatives
204 Cannon House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Re: Baton Rouge Loop project

Dear Congressman Graves:

Your correspondence dated January 26, 2016 regarding the Baton Rouge Loop project and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act has come to my attention. I would like to take this opportunity to voice my opposition the proposed Baton Rouge Loop, which is not the solution to the Capital Area’s transportation problems.

The proposed Loop is the brainchild of Mayor Kip Holden of Baton Rouge and a group of consultants who have already made substantial amounts of money on this project and stand to make a windfall if the project is actually approved. Certainly the traffic and infrastructure problems in the Greater Baton Rouge area have to be addressed. However, the Baton Rouge Loop is not the solution.

I note that your letter describes the Capital Area Expressway Authority as being comprised of “two of the five area parish presidents.” That raises the question of what about the other three? The answer is simple. The parish presidents of the other three parishes have resigned from the Authority because the are opposed to the proposed Loop. In addition, the parish councils of those three parishes have voted numerous times not to support the Loop, including a resolution by the Livingston Parish Council just last week. You may ask why these public officials in the affected areas are so opposed to the loop? The answer is simple. It does not serve the needs of the people of the surrounding parishes and will destroy our communities.

The Loop, as proposed, will solve some of the City of Baton Rouge’s traffic problems at the expense of its neighboring parishes. I, and many other residents, have reviewed the proposed project at length. The primary problem with the proposed expressway is the fact that it will disrupt and carve up existing communities, particularly in the Watson area. One of the primary objections which I have to the project is that if the purpose was to take out as many private homes and public facilities as possible, the proposed corridor could not have been drawn any better than it is now. For example, there are 2 proposed corridors which that cross the Amite River from Central to Watson. One of those corridors crosses the river just north of the existing Magnolia Beach Road bridge. That corridor will require removal of the historic Amite Baptist Church cemetery, will cut off at least 3 subdivisions containing hundreds of homes. And that is only in the first mile from the river crossing.

The other corridor crosses the Amite River north of the Old Greenwell Springs hospital. That corridor will pass directly through the new Live Oak High School property and will also affect North Live Oak Elementary and the Live Oak Ball Park, which recent underwent a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation. That corridor would also pass directly through at least two of the largest residential developments in Livingston Parish. What are we supposed to do about our homes? What are we supposed to do with our dead? Where are we supposed to educate our children or provide recreational opportunities for them.

There are also other alternatives to solving the gridlock in Baton Rouge, without doing so at the expense of the surrounding parishes. For instance, the group Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions (CRISIS) is a business and industry group which has proposed several projects which would make the proposed Loop unnecessary . These include
a. widening I-10 from the Mississippi River bridge to the I-10/I-12 split;
b. creating a commuter route from Ascension Parish along I-10 or Airline Highway;
c. Building an additional bridge across the Mississippi River South of Baton Rouge and widening Nicholson Drive to Gonzales;
d. Upgrading Airline Highway to an expressway from the Old Bridge to Gonzales; and
e. Building a north bypass from Airline Highway to Livingston Parish.

I would also point out that the Hooper Road extension has been approved, which would improve traffic flow in the Central area and provide another bridge across the Amite River to Highway 16 in Watson.

These projects would primarily use existing corridors, which would negate the problem of buying up land and acquiring new right of ways. They would also divert more traffic to the existing U.S. 190 bridge, which even DOTD recognizes as being underutilized. Increasing use of the U.S. 190 bridge would offer a cheaper and more readily available way to move more traffic across the Mississippi River from West Baton Rouge Parish.

These are just some of the reasons why the Capital Area Expressway should be allowed to die a quiet death, once and for all. I am eager to hear from you regarding this subject. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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Louisiana’s Budget Woes

 

Louisiana_State_Capitol_at_night

Today I will be sharing something from a guest blogger of sorts.  One of the things I like about my profession is that it brings me in contact with a lot of good people, who are also smart, well spoken and know how to get to the heart of an issue.  My colleague Brett Duncan is an attorney who practices in Hammond, Louisiana.  He is a husband, father, runs a small business and is also a member of the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

Today he posted something on FaceBook about the insanity of the current budget crisis we are facing in Louisiana.  Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the State of Louisiana has had holes in the budget for several years now, with little leadership from our former governor about how to find a long term fix.  He left office last month with what everyone knew was going to be a big deficit.  Turns out it is about double what we were led to believe it was going to be. Now it looks like there are going to be major cuts and tax increases, since we have what is projected as a $1.5 billion shortfall.

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Like any citizen, Brett is concerned. But today he hit on one of the most puzzling and aggravating facts of the whole mess.  With his permission, here is hit take:

“We are $500 million net negative in corporate taxes for this fiscal year. Meaning the state of Louisiana is paying out $500 million (in exemptions/credits, etc) more to corporations than we are collecting.” State Sen. Rick Ward during a recent Senate Finance Committee Meeting.

With this nugget of information, it should now be clear to all of us that LA Govt. has prioritized corporate profits over: 1) keeping taxes low for the rest of us, 2) Education, 3) Roads, 4) Orphans, 5) Abused and Neglected Children, 6) Prisons and Criminal Justice, 7) Healthcare, or 8) anything else that we might consider the basic business of state govt.

I support low taxes. I’m all for companys making a profit. I’m even for “economic incentives” to bring new companies and new jobs to LA. What I’m not in favor of is blatant corporate welfare during a time that we (everyone beside giant corporations w/ expensive lobbyist) are being asked to pay higher taxes so that basic state services can be adequately funded.”

Well said my friend.  Stated another way, fully one third of our problem is we are going to write $500 million dollars worth of checks, which is fully one third of this years shortfall. It is one thing to be broke. It is another thing altogether to keep handing out our cash, while at the same time we can’t keep the schools open and the roads fixed.  Only in Louisiana.

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Deadly Times Ahead in Baton Rouge

Within the next week, the oldest continuously operating hospital in Baton Rouge will close its Emergency Room. In February, The Baton Rouge General announced the closure of the Emergency Room at its Mid-City hospital on Florida Boulevard. In 1900,  there was a train wreck on the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley  near downtown.  Dr. T. P Singletary treated victims in a nearby building and realized that Baton Rouge needed a hospital. For over 100 years, the Baton Rouge General has provided emergency care to Louisiana’s capitol city, first at its original location on Government Street and, since 1950, at the “new” hospital at Florida and Acadian. Like most people in Baton Rouge, I was shocked to hear this and wondered “how could that happen and who is responsible for such a reckless decision”? It turns out that the responsibility falls squarely at the door of the Governor’s Mansion on the other side of Baton Rouge.

Yep, the conclusion is inescapable and the conclusion is this: Starting on April 1, PEOPLE IN BATON ROUGE ARE GOING TO DIE BECAUSE BOBBY JINDAL WANTS TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. There, I said it. Everybody in Louisiana knows it, but I said it.

We are all familiar with “Bobby Brady” Jindal and his aspirations for higher office. We all know that in the past 3 years, he has spent more time out of the state than he has in it. And, not coincidentally, those trips are almost always either to states where early presidential primaries are held or where he can court ultra-conservative Republican voters and donors. We also know that most of his policies, or lack thereof, have more to do with being a viable Republican presidential candidate than what is best for Louisiana. Think privatization of state health insurance and prisons, school vouchers, meddling in education, tax credits for billionaires, tax incentive financing schemes, etc. And even though he inherited a surplus when he took office and Louisiana is now facing a $1.7 billion budget hole, he refuses to look for new sources of revenue, i.e., raise taxes, since good conservative Republican candidates avoid tax increases like the plague. But, unfortunately, this latest stunt will become much more personal and deadly for some of us who live, work and shop in Baton Rouge.

The Baton Rouge General has been a fixture in Baton Rouge forever. Like many Baton Rouge natives, I was born there in 1962. The Mid-City campus was once a thriving, sprawling medical facility. People were born there and died there. Baton Rouge’s first open heart surgery was performed there. It housed the region’s only burn unit. And it had a very busy and vital emergency room. Over time, many things changed in Baton Rouge. Eventually, those who were able left Mid-City and North Baton Rouge for the suburbs. New hospitals were built. Our Lady of the Lake, located right behind the State Capitol, moved across town to Hennessy Lane. Woman’s Hospital took over labor in delivery on Airline Highway. And, a new hospital, now Ochsner Medical Center, was built on O’Neal Lane, near the parish line. And finally, the Baton Rouge General built a second campus off of Bluebonnet Boulevard. And, although the Mid-City campus has seen better times, it is still a viable and important part of Baton Rouge’s healthcare landscape. Especially since Bobby Brady decided to close the old Earl K. Long charity hospital on Airline a few years ago.

Although in 2014, the Baton Rouge General emergency room treated over 46,000 patients, it was losing about $2 million per month. You may ask why? Well, first the closing of Earl K. Long, a Jindal plan, shifted more and more uninsured patients to Baton Rouge General where, under federal law, the hospital was required to provide emergency care, regardless of whether the patient could pay or not. Secondly, and more importantly, Governor Jindal refuses to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid, since he is vehemently opposed to Obamacare. The problem is succinctly summed up in a recent editorial in the L. A. Times:

“Jindal has tried to position himself as the last stalwart Republican opponent of the ACA, but his state’s experience shows that his position is folly.

“The ACA was designed to encourage states to expand Medicaid–almost entirely at federal expense–as a means of cutting the uncompensated medical care hospitals had been forced to provide for low-income individuals and families. Much of that care has been customarily delivered through the ER.

“In the expectation that Medicaid would pick up the slack, the ACA reduced so-called disproportionate share hospital payments, which went to hospitals serving a large number of the uninsured. So institutions in states that have refused to expand Medicaid, like Louisiana, have faced a double-whammy–they still have to serve a large number of uninsured patients, but they have less money to do so.

You can read the whole article here: When a state blocks Obamacare, ERs close: The lesson of Louisiana

So, Louisiana could have solved this problem by expanding Medicaid and having the Feds pick up the costs. But, since Bobby is opposed to Obamacare, and wants to be able to prove it on the campaign trail, he opted out of the deal. And in doing so, he left the Baton Rouge General holding the bag.

Now, like many of you, I am not a fan of the Affordable Care Act. I think it is wrong in a number of ways. But, at the present time, it is the law of the land. And turning down federal money which would solve a serious healthcare crisis, at no costs to the State, does not seem like what you would expect from someone who is supposed to be a healthcare genius. But hey, what do I know?

However, the point here is not about money or political ideology or politics. It comes down to some serious numbers.

Last year the Baton Rouge General emergency room treated 46,000 patients, or about 3800 per month. And we all know that a lot of emergency room visits are not really emergencies. We all get that. However, the American College of Emergency Physicians estimates that 0.5%-1% of all ER visits are classified as critical cases. That is, people who are bleeding, have suffered gunshots, head injuries, internal injuries, are in cardiac or respiratory arrest, have severe burns or other serious conditions. In other words, people who are going to die if they do not get extensive medical care right now. Taking those numbers and doing the math, that means that each month, between 20-40 people in Baton Rouge are going to need critical medical care that they would have received at the Baton Rouge General. And some of those people are going to die. Even at a conservative rate of 5%, that means at least one to two people each month, maybe as many as three or four.

Because now they are going to have to travel across town to another hospital, probably the Lady of the Lake, to get to an emergency room. On a good day that will take an additional 15 minutes. On a bad day, with Baton Rouge traffic, it could take 30 minutes or more. Thirty minutes that they don’t have. Thirty minutes that could mean the difference between life and death. Emergency medical professionals refer to the first 60 minutes after a traumatic injury as “The Golden Hour”, the time that is crucial to treat a patient to save their life. Unfortunately, soon many people in Baton Rouge will spend the first half of that Golden Hour being driven to the hospital. Because Bobby Jindal wants to run for President.

And if you don’t live in the Mid-City or North Baton Rouge areas and don’t think this will affect you or yours, think again. This is not just a poor person or uninsured issue. Not only will the uninsured be turned away from the Baton Rouge General emergency room. After next week, it won’t matter how good your insurance is, because the emergency room will be closed. For good. And just because you do not live in North Baton Rouge, that doesn’t mean you may not need it one day. What if you work at Exxon or one of the other plants along the riverfront and suffer a heart attack or on the job injury? Or if you work for the State in one of those new office buildings around the Capitol? Or if you eat, drink or party downtown? Or if you are in an automobile accident on I-110? Or if you suffer some trauma while at Baton Rouge Metro Airport? Or if your child is seriously injured on a field trip to the Centroplex or the old Governor’s Mansion? Or if you commute down Government Street or North Boulevard to work each day? All of these scenarios involve people who would typically have been transported to the old EKL. But it is closed now. So, the next nearest hospital would be Baton Rouge General Mid-City. But it will be closed as well. So now you, your spouse, your child or other loved one will be off to OLOL on what maybe a half hour ride. A half hour you don’t have. And some of them will be among the two to four people per month that are going to die in Baton Rouge because there is no ER at the Baton Rouge General. And that is because Bobby Jindal wants to run for President.