Locals testify on Kansas Lane Connector.jpg

Several notable figures from Ouachita Parish testified in a Senate committee Monday, asking lawmakers to continue setting aside state funding for the 25-year-old Kansas Lane Connector project.

The $36-million Kansas Lane Connector project entails the construction of a two-mile, four-lane highway linking Kansas Lane with U.S. Hwy 165 at the Forsythe Extension.

The project is currently in the process of acquiring right-of-way before beginning the construction phase.

The state funding for the project is contained in House Bill 2, which also is known as the capital outlay or state construction budget. According to this year’s version of HB 2, there is $6.4 million in priority one funding and $25.6 million in priority five funding. The state funding for the project would be used as a match for federal funding covering a majority of the project’s costs.

Representatives from CenturyLink, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, Progressive Bank and the Ouachita Parish Police Jury urged members of the Senate committee on Revenue and Fiscal Affairs to protect the state funding for that project.

John Jones, CenturyLink’s senior vice president of public policy and government relations, said the completion of the connector project would be a significant step toward improving the area’s quality of life and economic development opportunities.

“It’s even more important now with the growth of Monroe,” Jones said. “We’re recruiting all over Louisiana and all over the world. We’re developing a 90-acre version of River Ranch across from our headquarters. Completing Kansas Lane will help with traffic, for sure. It sends a message that infrastructure is equally important.”

CenturyLink’s headquarters are in Monroe off Hwy 165.

According to Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, the completion of the Kansas Lane Connector project would show the state’s commitment to keeping CenturyLink, Louisiana’s only Fortune 500 company, headquartered within its borders.

“CenturyLink is there by choice,” Riser said. “They have the choice to go somewhere else.”

According to Sue Nicholson, president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, the completion of the connector project would have far-reaching effects.

“It goes to the center of our retail hub, our education hub, our transportation hub, our employment hub,” Nicholson said.

George Cummings, president at Progressive Bank, also testified in support of the project, appearing at the committee hearing with David Hampton, who is the executive vice president at Progressive Bank.

“The project is ready to go,” Cummings said. “It’s crucial to the economic development of our area.”

Cummings noted the business community in Monroe had supported the project since 1993.

According to Cummings and Riser, the project had progressed so slowly that clawback provisions attached to the project’s federal funding had kicked in. With the federal government clawing back its funds for the project, moving quickly was essential, Cummings said.

“The project has dragged on so long that part of that money has started to be taken back by the federal government and put to other projects,” Cummings said.

Riser said he had supported the project along with many members of the northeastern Louisiana legislative delegation and pledged continued support for the project.

“The traffic has exponentially grown, or gotten worse, which can be a good thing,” Riser said.

Police Juror Walt Caldwell said the connector project also could alleviate the traffic problems that sparked the state’s plans to spend money widening Hwy 165. If the Kansas Lane connector was built, then an expansion of Hwy 165 might not be necessary, according to Caldwell.

“It’s a very, very important project to Ouachita Parish,” Caldwell said.

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