Influx of Katrina Evacuees Creates Long-Term Problems
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The city of Baton Rouge in Louisiana has an estimated 100,000 new residents thanks to Katrina, and that has created an almost permanent traffic jam. The number of cars on the roads there is up at least 30 percent. From member station WRFK, Amy Jeffries reports.
AMY JEFFRIES reporting:
Rush-hour gridlock in Baton Rouge is mysteriously quiet. Despite commute times that have doubled or even tripled in some cases, drivers rarely honk. June LaMott has pulled into this gas station on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares so she doesn't have to fight the traffic again later to fill up. But she hesitates to call the congestion an inconvenience.
Ms. JUNE LaMOTT: It's been kind of hectic since the disaster. I guess more people are living down here. So there's nothing we can do about that, you know. What happened--you just pray about it and let it go.
JEFFRIES: But LaMott does think this side street should be widened to ease some of the congestion. In recent weeks, traffic engineers have traded longer wait times on side streets for more green-light time on major corridors. State traffic engineer Ronnie Carter says the effort has kept traffic moving, however slowly.
(Soundbite of traffic)
JEFFRIES: Carter is heading onto I-10, one of the highways that everyone uses to get from one side of Baton Rouge to the other. An accident has blocked the eastbound side of the interstate, and Carter wants to see if there's a portable sign in place where he can flash a detour message.
Mr. RONNIE CARTER (State Traffic Engineer): The first-timers, people just passing through the city, they don't really have a clue unless they happen to have a map in their car with them.
JEFFRIES: By the time Carter gets back to his office, the wreck on I-10 has been cleared, but another one has cropped up on I-12, the other interstate that goes through Baton Rouge. The city estimates the number of traffic accidents jumped 25 percent since Hurricane Katrina hit. Baton Rouge is hoping to quell some of the frustration by getting more people onto public buses. But traffic has made it all but impossible for the Capital Area Transit System, or CATS, to keep its regular schedule.
Olai Eladest(ph), an evacuee from New Orleans, has been waiting at the bus stop for the bus she hopes will take her home.
Ms. OLAI ELADEST: I think I'm going to actually call somebody and tell them to come and get me, and then I'll try again in the morning.
JEFFRIES: It may start getting a little easier to find a bus in Baton Rouge. CATS CEO Dwight Brashear says the company began phasing in additional buses on its busiest routes this week.
Mr. DWIGHT BRASHEAR (CEO, CATS): This is going to take us a while to ramp up to the 160 buses that this program calls for because there aren't that many buses in this area right now. And we're expecting buses to be brought in almost daily from around the country. I have five buses on my lot right now that are from St. Louis.
JEFFRIES: The expanded bus service is part of a six-month emergency transportation plan backed by $47 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But with as many as 100,000 evacuees expected to stay in Baton Rouge, Brashear says CATS will have to find other funds to invest in a permanent expansion of the bus system. For now most commuters are still stuck in their cars and planning their days around the traffic. For NPR News, I'm Amy Jeffries in Baton Rouge.
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