By Bill Sumrall
PINEVILLE — Mayor Clarence Fields says the outlook for 2010 could include a bid opening for a new O.K. Allen Bridge.
In an interview with The Light, Fields said the state Department of Transportation and Development’s project for a new four-lane bridge to replace the aging O.K. Allen Bridge is estimated by city officials to cost $75 million.
The overall project includes the four-laning of U.S. 165 from Red River to Pineville High School, which is estimated to cost $25 million, city officials added.
“That will be a major, major undertaking,” the mayor said, describing the total $100 million project as changing the face of the cities of Pineville and Alexandria.
The new bridge will be built in about the same location across the river and eventually displace the current O.K. Allen Bridge, Fields said.
“It originally was going to be a six-lane bridge but because of funding it’s going to be cut down to a four-lane, which will still be a great asset for us,” Fields said.
The project is part of the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development, or TIMED, program, which is cited as “the single largest transportation program in state history” by the state DOTD Web site.
“The TIMED Program was created by Act 16 of the 1989 Louisiana Legislature and was voted for by the people,” according to the Web site at http://www.timedla.com.
“The project is funded by a four-cent gas tax established in 1989 and in effect until all TIMED projects are complete. A series of bond sales will help accelerate construction,” the Web site states.
“The $5 billion improvement program includes widening 536 miles of state highways to four lanes on 11 project corridors, widening and/or new construction on three major bridges and improvements to both the Port of New Orleans and Louis Armstrong International Airport,” the Web site states.
The mayor said that the one goal now for the city of Pineville in 2010 is “to complete some of the projects that are in line to be completed.”
Among those projects is a new community center on Bragg Street in the Smithville/Lakeview area of Pineville, which is slated to be open later this month, Fields said.
“It will not be a full-blown community center operationally like Kees Park and Main Street is because it’s a little bit smaller,” Fields said.
The primary use for the center will be for small meetings and there are three offices available for different initiatives, which could include a community police officer working from one of those offices, the mayor said.
While he hoped more attention could be paid to senior citizens through the center, Fields said plans for its exact operation were still being formulated.
The city contributed about 20 percent toward grant funds totaling $800,000 for building the facility, which is located on 40 acres of land donated to the city by the Tutor family, Fields said.
Fields said they hoped to continue to “find ways to fund some of the major projects relative to infrastructure, particularly water and sewer,” throughout 2010.
“The Susex Drive project is the major project and it’s on track,” the mayor said, adding this “major improvement for a major thoroughfare through our city” is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
Fields predicted increases in the funding of police, firefighter and other municipal workers’ pension systems statewide represent a major challenge in the future.
“All indications are that we’re going to see increases there,” Fields said.
Preliminary numbers for the city’s firefighter pension system indicate a jump of 7 1/2 percent, from 14 percent to 21 1/2 percent, for the employers’ match portion due to investment losses statewide, said city auditor Mark McKay.
McKay presented his fiscal report on the city of Pineville during the City Council meeting Jan. 12 and said the city faces an increase of as much as $500,000 to meet pension system hikes.
The mayor said that, while they have preliminary numbers about the municipal firefighters’ retirement system now, they won’t know about increases for police and city workers’ retirement system hikes for another month or two.
“And then we’ll start having to meet those challenges,” Fields said, though he believed they’ll be OK as far as health insurance and workmen’s comp.
During the Jan. 12 Pineville City Council meeting, city auditor Mark McKay reported that some $200,000 in sales taxes over a 10-year period, totaling about $2 million, are slated to be reimbursed for the Lowe’s project in future obligations.
However, McKay said the city “will benefit more than we pay” in sales taxes generated by the company locating here.
District 4 Councilman Tom Bouchie agreed, saying the city may see more than $1 million a year back.
Fields said this is not an issue because “what the city will gain overall from the Lowe’s presence here is far more than what it will do to help them relative to them coming here.”
“We still believe that potentially, particularly here in Central Louisiana, particularly in Pineville, we’re in a great position,” the mayor said.
“We just have to be very conscious and cautious of some of the challenges and not let them derail, you know, some of the things that we’ll be trying to do here in 2010, as far as improvements are concerned,” Fields said.