By Angie Thorne, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerAugust 19, 2011
LEESVILLE, La. " A host of dignitaries including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Sen. John R. Smith, District 30, Col. Roger Shuck, Joint Readiness Training Center garrison commander, Secretary Sherri H. LeBas, Department of Transportation and Development, Leesville Mayor C. Robert Rose and other local officials gathered at the Leesville Municipal Golf and Recreation Center to celebrate the newly completed U.S. 171, La Hwy. 8 and La Hwy. 28 roundabout Aug. 5. At the event's conclusion, the party traveled to the site of the roundabout for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Jindal said in Vernon Parish alone, the state has invested millions to improve infrastructure. "Opening the new roundabout not only helps improve traffic flow and reduce accidents, but also makes this region more accessible to the state " which encourages business expansion and job creation," said Jindal.
"We applaud Governor Jindal's and the legislature's investment in the infrastructure of the local community," said Smith. "It was a dream for many to have a north and south four-lane highway and an east and west four-lane highway intersect at Leesville. That leads to a lot of growth and that's what we wanted."
LeBas agreed. "The new roundabout is an important addition to the city of Leesville, one that will increase safety and reduce congestion at this intersection," she said.
Rose called the roundabout "innovative." "I commend the Department of Transportation and Development for bringing this approach to the City of Leesville and Governor Jindal for his support of our community," said Rose. "I am excited about the long-lasting benefits to our transportation system and the economic benefits it will bring to the Leesville area."
Jindal cited the roundabout's safety benefits. "Statistics show that roundabouts can reduce fatalities by up to 90 percent and injury crashes by up to 75 percent," he said.
The roundabout project converted the signalized T-intersection of U.S. 171 with La Hwy. 8/28 into a two-lane, four-legged modern roundabout. A portion of the project also includes the intersection of a side road constructed as part of the new Market Basket Food Store development adjacent to the west side of U.S. 171.
The store's grand opening was Aug. 10. "The completion of the roundabout will give our customers safe access to our stores. It was a pleasure working with the state through every phase of the project. I think it's a job well done," said Steve Cormier, Market Basket senior vice president of operations.
Jindal also pointed out that this is about more than just constructing a roundabout. He said it's about investing in the Fort Polk community and the infrastructure it serves. "Fort Polk plays an incredibly important role in the nation's security and the economy of our state. We have funded projects totaling $43.7 million to date that include the widening of La Hwy. 28 " a critical corridor for Central Louisiana and the country's national security efforts. We know that these routes give people coming from Fort Polk access to Alexandria including the international airport, which provides airlifts for troops, supplies and equipment," said Jindal. "Additional investments include a $1.3 million project in 2010 to replace a bridge on La Hwy. 184, near the entrance to Fort Polk, to improve safety and access to the base, and two upcoming projects, totaling approximately $3.5 million, that will continue to improve road surfaces near the installation."
Jindal said tens of millions of dollars have been invested in this critical corridor because the state has made it a priority. "Even during tough fiscal times, we have said it was important to support our military and the economic infrastructure in central Louisiana. Louisiana tax payers and citizens are showing that we appreciate everything the military does for us and we want to make sure they have a first class infrastructure to meet their needs," said Jindal.
The ceremony closed with remarks from Shuck who thanked the governor for recognizing Fort Polk's importance to the local community, Louisiana and the nation; investing in transportation projects that are vitally important to the sustainability of Fort Polk; and the economic development and prosperity in Leesville and Vernon Parish. "We're excited about the completion of the La Hwy. 28 corridor that will significantly improve access to Alexandria and enhance our ability to move combat units quickly and safely to the Alexandria International Airport for training exercises and deployments to theaters of operations," said Shuck. "Governor Jindal, thanks again for all you've done and continue to do for Fort Polk's Soldiers, Families and community."