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City officials, residents stumped over solution to Pan Am/Town South problem

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Leigh Guidry of the Natchitoches Times investigates the lack of emergency exits for residents of the Town South and Pan Am subdivisions in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Residents of two local subdivisions are pushing for an exit that doesn’t require crossing railroad tracks. Town South and Pan Am subdivisions have more than 140 lots but each have only one exit – both crossed by Union Pacific railroad tracks, leaving residents no way in or out when a train is passing. Although the city and Union Pacific have an agreement not to stop a train on the tracks, the agreement can’t stop necessary maintenance.

Union Pacific needed to replace a large piece of track located at the exit of Town South Subdivision and closed the crossing Saturday, March 13. Union Pacific let the city and residents know about two days prior to the closure, leaving very little time to develop a plan, Councilman Dale Nielsen said.

The mayor, fire department and police department worked with Union Pacific to change the all-day closure to a several-hour closure, but about 30 minutes after the road was closed, a resident called for an ambulance.

Larry Atteredge, director of emergency medical service for Natchitoches Parish, said the ambulance drivers who were called out Saturday created an alternate route to get into Town South Subdivision by driving through the grass and around the construction.

The railroad company later laid down metal pads for the ambulance to drive across, and Atteredge and Nielsen decided to keep an ambulance within the subdivision in case of another emergency.

Atteredge emphasized that the ambulance did have access Saturday and that there were no issues. In this situation, he said the plan to is to talk with whoever is doing the construction to find an alternate route. If necessary, the city can also call 911 for an 800 number to Union Pacific to have the trains broken within two minutes to allow an emergency vehicle to pass, the mayor said.

Many residents of the subdivisions are talking with Nielsen and the Natchitoches City Council about building a second exit road for the subdivisions.

“We’re in a community that just doesn’t have another way out,” Elizabeth Wysingle said. “We’re boxed in.”

Wysingle, resident of Town South Subdivision for 39 years, is one of the proponents of the road, which she says people have been fighting almost 40 years for. She would like a road from Harry Drive through the Industrial Park to Alliance Compressors, which she says is a short distance.

“We’re not asking for a major highway, just something for emergencies,” she said.

Nielsen said one new road won’t fix the entire problem. The first step must be to interconnect the two subdivisions so that a new road will provide an exit for both subdivisions and not just one. Mayor Wayne McCullen said the city has tried to buy up property to connect the two subdivisions before, but owners were reluctant to sell for many reasons.

The city has to acquire property between the subdivisions before a road can be laid, and making two new roads – one for each subdivision – isn’t really a viable option because it would be too expensive to acquire more property and more materials, McCullen said.

Originally Nielsen wanted to get a hard surface, blacktop road in, but now he is just focused on having an emergency exit route, whether dirt or gravel.

Nielsen said he realized the concern for a new road for the subdivisions when he campaigned for councilman two years ago.

He knew of a few previous attempts to get a road, but between the La. DOTD, the railroad company, lack of funding and unwilling property owners, it was unsuccessful, he said. That hasn’t stopped him from trying, though.

“I’m determined to find a way,” Nielsen said. “Something has to be done.”

Wysingle recognizes the councilman’s effort in trying to get this road built. She said he is really struggling to get this road.

Nielsen said what needs to happen now is for the city to get together with department heads – planning and zoning for property, utility department for right of way, public works and a city engineer to lay out plans, the mayor and City Council to find funding – to make this project a reality.

Two options for a new road are one to Fairgrounds Road and one through the Industrial Park, but each option has issues.

La. DOTD would not approve a street entering near Mill Street, and companies located in the Industrial Park were assured that the city wouldn’t open up a road near them to a residential area, McCullen said. Building a road to Fairgrounds Road would be more expensive because it is a longer distance to cover, requiring more building materials and more property to be bought.

“There’s just not an easy solution,” McCullen said. “We will continue to explore possibilities.”

McCullen said there are always issues when there is a railroad running through the town and that Natchitoches has experienced a downturn just like other places; the city is trying to make cuts without laying off people.

“I know our roads are in deplorable condition,” he said. “We’re having a hard time fixing roads, let alone building a new one.”

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Written by demon53

March 30, 2010 at 3:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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