Gas tax isn’t alleviating the DOTD’s road repair backlog

The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) is currently facing a $12 billion backlog on road repairs and the $1.7 billion revenue the department is expecting isn’t going to do much to elevate the problem.

This issue can be attributed to gas taxes and the amount of money

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DOTD Logo (Photo Credit: DOTD website)

they generate for the state. Gas taxes are taxes paid when purchases are made on gasoline. The gas tax was established in Louisiana in 1984. Most of DOTD’s funding comes from what these gas taxes and federal funds generate. However, compared to states like North Carolina, Louisiana’s state gas taxes are one of the lowest in the South. Louisianans only pay 20 cents per gallon, while people in North Carolina pay 38.15 cents. This does not include the federal gasoline tax which is 18.4 in both states.

The DOTD gets 16 cents out of every 20 cents the gas tax generates. The four other cents are dedicated to projects in the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED) Program. The program was established in 1989 with a goal to invest in transportation projects to increase economic development. TIMED projects include the widening of US 90 from Morgan City to Houma, LA 15 and the Huey P. Long Bridge.

The gas tax has not increased since its inception. Inflation has made this an issue for the state and DOTD. According to a report done by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the tax is now only worth 7 cents per gallon because of inflation. This is causing funding issues for the DOTD. To make matters worse, the ASCE report explained that revenue from gas taxes continue to decline because of increase in fuel efficient vehicles. Paired with the $12 billion backlog, improvements don’t seem to be coming.

In fact, Louisiana’s roads and bridges received D ratings from the ASCE, which represents a crumbling infrastructure. The DOTD was

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Pump at Circle K on Burbank Drive

contacted for a comment on this rating but no response was received

“Louisiana road system is congested, in poor condition and inadequate
to meet the needs of a state competing to provide economic opportunities for business and citizens in the 21st century” the ASCE report stated.

Much like the ASCE report, traffic congestion is something that LSU student Paige Vaughn deemed an issue.

“Depending on what time you choose to drive, traffic in Baton Rouge can be horrible,” Vaughn said.

LSU student Justin Guillory shared the same opinion.

“Traffic in Baton Rouge area is very bad between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m., especially off the I-10 Bridge,” Guillory said.

Both students are from out of town. Guillory is from Lake Charles and Vaughn is from Livonia.

The ASCE report further explained that almost every deficiency can be directly blamed on “an inadequate and outdated funding model that forces transportation professionals to defer capacity, safety and maintenance projects.”

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Circle K on Burbank Drive

Although, both Vaughn and Guillory stated that road conditions have never caused car problems, other out of town students have had different experiences.

Nicholas Willbanks is one of these students. He drives a 2014 Mustang GT and has recently considered buying a new car because of the road conditions in the Baton Rouge area. He stated that he constantly encounters potholes and has even gotten flat tires because of them.

“When I hit potholes it feels like it’s doing structural damage to my car,” Willbanks said. “I now realize why people have trucks in the city, thanks to driving on Baton Rouge roads.”

Willbanks’s family lives in Texas and Virginia. He drives to both states a few times a year to visit family.

“Compared to Virginia and Texas roads, Louisiana roads are terrible,” Willbanks said. “The interstates and major highways in Louisiana are slightly better than the local roads, but there’s always some sort of construction project going.”

Similar to Vaughn and Guillory, Willbanks believes that traffic in Baton Rouge is an issue. He considers traffic light timing “a joke” and explained how he constantly sees traffic even during non-peak hours.

Any type of change done to the gas tax would be handled by the legislature. Although, Louisiana’s failing infrastructure is clear and organizations like Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association have called for an increase in the tax, the legislature has not made much progress.

“I think it’s ridiculous that no one is trying to increase the tax,” Willbanks said. “I don’t understand why they can’t increase it if it’s going to help fix the backlog.”

Attempts at contacting the legislature for comment went unanswered.

 

Screening of “The Invisible War” highlights sexual assualt in the military

Baton Rouge residents were given the opportunity to learn about women’s experiences in the military with the screening of the award-winning documentary, “The Invisible War,” on Thursday at the USS KIDD Veterans Museum.

The event was organized by the LSU Women’s Center

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Attendees wait in the  museum’s lobby before screening

as part of their Gender on Film series. The series occurs once a semester and has a yearly theme. This year’s theme is based on the experiences of women in the military. LSU Women’s Center graduate assistant and event organizer, Noelle Davis, stated that last October the center screened “Women in War,” a documentary about the history of women’s roles in the military.

This semester’s documentary focuses on the increasing incidences of sexual assault in the military. Davis described the issue as “one of America’s most shameful and best-kept secrets.”

A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that 20,300 active duty military members were sexually assaulted in 2014. The Protect Our Defenders website further explained that out of those numbers, 9,600 were women. In fact, the website states that sexual assaults are more commonplace in the military and that rates are 50 percent higher among active-duty women.

The number of sexual assaults in the armed forces may be much higher. Statistics show that in the majority of cases, 86 percent are never reported. According to Protect Our Defenders, this may be due to fear of retaliation from other members. The website states that 62 percent of women who report sexual assaults are retaliated against.

Davis explained that events like the screening of “The Invisible War” help the Women’s Center achieve its mission of promoting the advancement of women’s issues.

“The events we hold not only open people’s eyes to some issues for the first time, but they can also give another perspective,” Davis said. “It’s important that people are talking about these things or nothing will change.”

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USS KIDD Museum Theater

This semester’s event is not the first time the Women’s Center has partnered up with the museum. The museum’s development coordinator, Catherine Cooper, explained that, in the past, the two have worked together to bring awareness to similar issues.

“It’s important for the KIDD to partner with organizations like the LSU Women’s Center to bring events such as the Gender on Film series to the community because they discuss issues that affect all members of our community,” Cooper said.

The museum has had events focused on women’s issues independent of the LSU Women’s Center in the past. In 2014 the museum screened the “Invisible War” as part of their KIDD Keynote lecture series. Cooper said that past events have garnered positive feedback.

“The USS KIDD has received great feedback from similar educational events that we have hosted,” Cooper said. “Our KIDD Keynotes lecture series gives members of our community an opportunity to learn about the range of issues that impact all community members.”

The documentary generated some emotional responses from audience members. Event goer, Johanna Caballero, explained how surprising the documentary was.

“I did think it was really shocking,” Caballero said.”It was so informative about what really goes on and how it isn’t really being acknowledged.”

The Invisible War Screening Preview

The LSU Women’s Center is hosting a screening on Thursday of the award-winning documentary, The Invisible War. The movie is being screened at the USS Kidd Museum. The event is being held as part of the Women’s Center’s Gender on Film series. The series happens once a semester and has a yearly theme. This year’s theme focuses on women’s experience in the military.

 

The event is from 6 to 8 p.m. and refreshments will be served.

Kendra Scott Gives Back to CASA

Kendra Scott gave back once again with Thursday’s Kendra Scott Gives Back Party, benefitting Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA).

The Kendra Scott Gives Back Party is in its second year. Since 2015, there have been four events held by Kendra Scott to benefit CASA. Jennifer Mayer, CASA recruitment coordinator said that these events have raised 1,400 dollars since they began.

At this year’s event shoppers were given a 10 percent discount and 10 percent of the money raised was given to CASA.

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Refreshments were served at the event.

CASA is an organization that works toward helping abused and neglected foster care children find safe, permanent homes. The CASA website explains that the idea for the program was conceived in 1977 by a Seattle juvenile court judge concerned with the welfare of foster care children. The first program in Louisiana was started in Orleans Parish in 1986. The East Baton Rouge Parish program was founded 1992.

Most of the funding for CASA comes from federal grants, private foundations, donations and fundraising events. Mayer elaborated on how important fundraising events like the Kendra Scott Gives Back Party are to CASA’s success.

“The organization needs volunteers and resources in order to continue serving every child” Mayer said. “Fundraisers like Kendra Gives Back enable CASA to reach this goal not only by raising funds, but also by generating public awareness.”

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CASA brochures on display at the event.

The Kendra Scott Gives Back Party event between Kendra Scott Perkins Rowe and CASA began through a partnership that Kendra Scott had with Terracon Consultants, an engineering firm. Allie Jarreau, a community relations and event manager for Kendra Scott, explained that the firm supports CASA locally and that Kendra Scott reached out to the company with the proposal to hold the fundraiser.

“CASA is a very neat organization to work with because I find that multiple business and social groups support them,” Jarreau said. “So it’s neat that I get to work with multiple business and host different events but it all goes back to one cause.”

Lisa Smith, Terracon client development manager, explained how CASA came to work with her company and how beneficial the relationship has been for the organization.

“All of our offices always pick an association or a non-profit and try to raise money for them,” Smith said. “As of today I’m at 10,000 dollars for CASA. Last year it was 11,000 dollars that we raised for them.”

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From left: Jennifer Mayer, Lisa Smith and Allie Jarreau

The Kendra Scott event is only one of the events that Terracon hosts to benefit CASA.

“We’re doing a golf benefit,” Smith said. “So on April the 11I have 34 teams at the University club. That’s our big fundraiser. Its engineers, architects, construction firms that do sponsors.”

However, the Kendra Scott Gives Back Party events are not the first time that Kendra Scott has given to CASA. Kendra Scott’s first donation to the organization was in 2014. The store donated an item toIMG_0676 the CASA Fiesta silent auction during another fundraiser.

Marie Schexnadyre, a Kendra Scott fan and Smith’s friend said that she came to the event to support Smith and Terracon. She explained that the fundraiser was also a good reason to shop at the store.

“It’s a great way to get your name out there,” Schexnaydre said. “It’s a great way for organizations to kind of come together and support each other’s causes. I think that’s really cool.”

Kendra Scott gives back to CASA

Kendra Scott is holding a fundraising event to benefit the Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers (CASA). The event is being held today at the store’s Perkins Rowe location. The event is from 5 to 8 p.m.

CASA works toward putting abused and neglected foster care children in safe living enviornments.

The overachieving, “non-overachiever”

Mass communication junior, Kendra Davis, does not consider herself an overachiever.
She graduated from Terrebonne High School with a 3.8 GPA. She was a member of Student Council, the National BETA Club, the National Honor Society (NHS), and the Foreign Language Club. Davis was also a cheerleader, played volleyball, basketball, and ran track.

She was Student Council class president all four years of high school, vice president of NHS, president of the Foreign Language Club, basketball team captain and­­ ­­­– let’s not forget — Homecoming Queen.

Her love for involvement did not end when she left the halls of Terrebonne High. In her freshman year at LSU, Davis joined as many clubs and organizations on campus as possible

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Pictured: Kendra Davis

 

“I probably got too involved freshman year,” Davis said. She found her over-involvement funny. “I had great experiences in high school by being a student leader, so I wanted to enhance my leadership skills.”

At LSU, Davis joined Student Government, Dance Marathon, Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Society, the Black History Month Committee, the National Society for Collegiate Scholars, Volunteer LSU and SPRINGFEST Minority Recruitment. She has also coordinated the Mr. and Miss Imani Pageant for the last two years. The pageant is the 2nd largest pageant on campus, next to Miss LSU. Most importantly, Davis recently ran for student body president under the RESTART campaign.

Kendra Davis does not consider herself an overachiever. This humbleness is what her best friend, Amari Wilson loves the most about her.

“She’s accomplished so much for her age and yet she can hang with the best or worst of them,” Wilson said. “She’s real and I love it.”

Wilson and Davis met their freshmen year of college. Wilson explained that they instantly hit it off.

“Me and her lived on the same hall of our residential college” Wilson said. “She was always friendly and welcoming.”

Wilson was one of Davis’s biggest supporters during her campaign for student body president. She also worked as one of the public relations officers for the campaign. Wilson was the Twitter and Instagram facilitator.

Although the race for the presidency ended earlier in March, Davis still speaks passionately about the RESTART campaign.

“RESTART was more than a regular SG campaign,” Davis said. “RESTART was a movement of concerned students. I realized that campus was disjointed.”

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(Photo Credit: Taylor Hunter) Pictured: Kendra Davis

Davis did not win student body president. If she would have won, she would have been the first African-American female to do so. However, Davis does not consider the loss a total one and neither does Wilson. Both students agreed that the campaign made a positive influence on campus.

 

 

“We gave people a voice and a reason to care,” Davis said. “We sparked a new flame on this campus, and that’s something that I could not be more proud of.”

Much like Davis, Wilson agreed that students were given a voice. More important to her, Davis’s campaign gave a voice to minority students.

“I definitely believe all the work she did with this campaign made an impact on this campus,” Wilson said. “Seeing someone just like you that’s involved with the same stuff as you, enjoys the same stuff as you, someone that’s so relatable, seeing her become such a big name on this campus is important.”

According to Davis, the loss also had a positive impact on her. She described the experience as phenomenal.

“I think I’ve become a better leader after facing a lot of adversity,” Davis said. “I’ve also grown into a stronger, more independent young woman.”

If anything, Davis’s motivation to make a name out of herself has increased tenfold since the loss. Her  positivity about her future is just as unwavering as ever.

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(Photo Credit: Taylor Hunter) Left: Kendra Davis. Right: Louis Gremillion Jr, RESTART vice-presidential candidate. 

 

“This election won’t determine my fate; I’m in control of that,” Davis said. “This was only a stepping stone and I know that God has something greater for me in store.”

Yet, Davis does not consider herself an overachiever. But why would a woman that has achieved so much in such a short period of time not consider herself an overachiever?

“I don’t like to refer to myself as that, because that word has developed a negative connotation over time,” Davis explained. “In everything that I do, I always make sure that it is benefiting my school, community, or family in some capacity. I just strive for the best and continue to be a positive influence in people’s lives.

What exactly does the self-proclaimed “non-overachiever” want to do once she graduates LSU? Receive her law degree from either Howard Law or UT Austin, and join the FBI – of course.

 

 

 

Journalist to Public Relations Officer

Anastasia Semien’s decision to leave her journalism career to become a public relations officer at the Department of Transportation and Development was not a hard one.

“It was about sitting down and examining where I wanted to be within the next five years,” Semien said. “It was actually an exciting, smooth change

Semien had worked as a journalist for 10 years. Her journalistic pursuits began when she was 18 years old. The public relations officer started freelancing while she was still attending Caddo Magnet High School

Semien explained that her love of journalism started off as a love for English and creative writing. She also credited the injustices that she saw in her community as her push to become a journalist.

“I would wonder why issues in the African American community were either ignored or not covered properly, and I felt compelled to change that,” Semien said.

 However, Semien learned that working as a journalist was not only about changing her community. She determined rather quickly that it would also change her.

“At one point, all the crime stories I covered made it harder for me to see the good in the world,” Semien said.

Semien spoke about a crime she covered in which a woman’s boyfriend tortured and killed her child.

“I’m not one who cries easily, and I was in tears before I even finished reading the police report.”

She explained that the report revealed that the child had trauma on almost every part of his body.

Semien said that she had to learn how to keep the tragedies that she covered from affecting her everyday life.

“I would constantly have to remind myself not to internalize the negative aspects of my job and that good things are happening all around me,” Semien said. “I made sure that I covered positive stories as often as I could.”

Semien does acknowledge that her experience as a journalists has made her more cynical. However, she explained that she has no regrets about working as a journalist or changing careers.

“I believe that everything happens for a reason,” Semien said. “I love my job and am where I am today because of those past decisions.”

I-10 Improvement Public Meetings Begin

The second round of meetings to discuss the I-10 Corridor Improvement Study began Monday at McKinley Magnet Middle School.

Monday’s meeting was part of a series of meetings held by the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) in and around the Baton Rouge area.

“The purpose of the I-10 Corridor Improvement Study is to identify system deficiencies contributing to congestion patterns throughout the I-10 corridor from west of the Mississippi River to the I-10/I-12 split,” Anastasia Semien, DOTD public relations officer, said.

Several traffic and engineering experts attended the meeting to discuss possible solutions to elevate traffic in the area. Some of the solutions suggested were restructuring the College Drive exit, removing the Washington Street exit, widening I-10 and adding a new bridge.    

 

The suggested solution to widen I-10 did not sit well with some residents.

“You don’t need to keep widening,” Baton Rouge resident, Bernadette Wilkinson, said. “You need to build another bridge. We’ve been saying it for 20 years.”

Wilkinson explained that her concern was with the College Drive area and that widening I-10 was just a temporary solution.

“It’s a critical problem for the city,” Wilkinson said. “In this particular case I’m concerned with the College Drive area because I live in that area.”

After the meeting, attendees were encouraged to view exhibits displaying the I-10 problem areas.

More information on the I-10 improvements can be found on the I-10 Corridor Study website.

DOTD Public Meeting Preview

The improvements to the I-10 corridor from Essen lane to LA 415 will be discussed in a series of meetings held by the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The meetings will focus on solutions to improve the traffic conditions in the I-10 corridor.

“DOTD is examining several options, including overall widening and improvement of I-10, a new south bridge,” DOTD Public Relations Officer,  Anastasia Semien, said.

Several DOTD officials and engineering and traffic experts will be in attendance to discuss traffic study results.

The meetings will be held on February 22 at McKinley Middle Magnet School, Februray 23 at the Addis Community Center and February 25 at the Baton Rouge Marriott Hotel.

For more information on the meetings visit the DOTD website.

 

 

Partial TOPS payments resumed

After the decision to immediately suspend TOPS payments was made Thursday, the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) has decided to resume partial payments of the scholarship.

In its Feb. 12th press release, LOSFA stated that its appropriation only allowed it to pay 80 percent of the cost. Colleges and universities are expected to absorb the other 20 percent.

The release stated that the decision to resume partial TOPS payments was made after LOSFA received clarification that the $28 million cut to the scholarship’s funding would be absorbed by individual colleges and universities.

Gus Wales, LOSFA director of public information and communications, explained that students would not be charged for the $28 million shortage.

The decision to continue the TOPS payments comes as a relief to LSU mass communication student, Kendra Davis.

“I was just really fearful when JBE announced the cuts, because TOPS is what pays my tuition. Without it I wouldn’t be able to afford LSU,” said Davis. “I am definitely glad it’s reinstated because I know I still have a future at LSU.”

There are currently 52,788 students on TOPS statewide.

The initial decision to cut TOPS payments was made amid concerns of possible budget cuts. Louisiana is currently facing its largest budget deficit in its history. The state has over a $940 million budget deficit. Next fiscal year’s budget deficit is being projected to be $2 billion.

In his televised address, Gov. John Bel Edwards attributed the state’s financial woes to the Jindal administration.

“For seven years in a row, the state has had growing budget deficits. Year after year, the previous administration made temporary fixes using one-time funds to patch recurring expenses, knowing that eventually the well would run dry,” said Gov. Edwards.

As for the TOPS program, the impact to its funding for the 2015-2016 academic year will be determined by what happens in the upcoming special legislative session.

 

press release