Drivers of vehicles stalled in traffic on Airline Drive or Benton Road may not see a silver lining as they try to traverse the major thoroughfares of Bossier City.
But Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker often notes in speeches around town that bad traffic, while perceived to be one of Bossier’s biggest problems, is something he sees as a symbol of the rapid growth that Bossier Parish is experiencing.
“Let me tell you, a lot of parishes would die to have the traffic problems we have,” Walker said in his June inauguration speech. “They’re dying on the vine.”
Traffic congestion – and the street and road construction projects around town aimed at alleviating that problem – are something residents in this growing area must endure as population continues to rise.
“As we grow and grow out, there’s going to have to be some traffic changes,” said David “Rocky” Rockett, director of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation (GBEDF). “Those roads and those plans were made 15 years ago, and we’re trying to get ahead of it, but sometimes the growth just outpaces the planning.
“I think Bossier in particular has done well planning ahead, but I don’t think anybody foresaw the growth the last 10 years that we’ve seen.”
A growing city
Statistics from various sources underscore that Bossier City and Bossier Parish are both growing at a fast rate.
According to population estimates released recently by the State of Louisiana, Bossier City’s population is estimated to have been 69,584 as of July 1, 2016. That figure represents a rise of about 1,000 people per year over the previous two years, and it makes Bossier the sixth largest city in the state.
According to the latest data from GBEDF, Bossier City’s population is expected to hit at least 73,550 residents by 2022, while Bossier Parish could increase by more than 11,000 residents in the next five years, reaching a total of more than 145,000 people.
Rockett believes there are five cornerstones of the economy in the region: health, retail, gaming, oil and gas, and defense and cyber.
Of those cornerstones, health care and defense/cyber are driving growth in employment opportunities, he said.
Where is the growth?
Not all growth in Bossier Parish is created equal.
“South Bossier is growing at a slower rate than north Bossier,” said Sam Marsiglia, executive director of the Bossier City-Parish Metropolitan Planning Commission. “North Bossier, and we say the Benton Road-Airline Drive corridor, particularly Airline Drive, about 60 percent of our growth is in that area.”
The other 40 percent of the growth in the area of MPC’s jurisdiction is divided between south Bossier and the northeast section containing the Haughton-Red Chute area, he said.
“We’ve been working part-time (in the Benton zoning office) doing that for a couple of years now, and just lately we’ve seen a big uptick in the number of new home construction, up around the lake, Airline Drive and Palmetto Road,” Marsiglia told The Times in November. “I just noticed in the last year, the number of building permits for housing in that Benton jurisdiction has really increased.”
South Bossier Parish actually faces a challenge due to the oil and gas development that has occurred there over the years, Rockett said.
“They’ve crisscrossed so many different pipelines and wellheads that it makes it very difficult to develop any further south past Sligo Road,” he said. “You’ve got a significant number of oil and gas wells that are active in the pipelines underneath the ground that have eliminated the opportunity for using big swaths of land for development.”
Bossier City Chief Administrative Officer Pam Glorioso also noted that the cost of bringing infrastructure to a large part south Bossier Parish would be high.
“There’s no water, there’s no sewer, there’s no roads at this point into those areas,” she said. “North Bossier, the infrastructure is there.”
Still, south Bossier City is seeing some residential growth as well. The Preserve, a planned subdivision off Barksdale Highway and Sunflower Road, is primed to bring 330 new homes over the next 10 years.
“That’s probably about as far in the city proper you’ll see new houses be built,” Glorioso said about the southern part of the city. “There will be more in-fill maybe, some smaller areas, but it’s very limited where homes can go or where businesses can go.”
As Bossier tries to keep up with its burgeoning population, multiple road projects are in the works, including the widening of Shed Road, the construction of Innovation Drive and plans for a $45 million northern parkway extension called the Walter O. Bigby Carriageway.
A $15 million renovation project downtown, expected to be completed this fall after more than a year of construction, is aimed at attracting more businesses and maybe one day, potential residents.
The portion of Shed Road that connects Benton Road to Airline Highway is being expanded from two lanes to four, with construction expected to last about 10 more months. According to data provided by Bossier City Engineer Mark Hudson, 7,528 vehicles per day used the road in 2013. By 2033, that number is predicted to be 10,140 vehicles per day.
Meanwhile, a $19 million construction project on Swan Lake Road, part of a larger plan that eventually will create a new north-south route expected to help take traffic off Airline Drive and Benton Road, will get under way this fall. That project, overseen by the parish, has been anticipated since 2004.
The future Innovation Drive, situated off Swan Lake Road, is expected to be lengthened for an additional east-west corridor parallel to I-220, which the city also hopes will provide some traffic relief.
That road will be home to a new Honda dealership, with the potential for additional development in the future.
While the Walter O. Bigby Carriageway has been planned for many years, Glorioso said, it is a matter of good timing that the parkway extension is expected to be constructed in the middle of the north Bossier population boom.
“Growth in Bossier has been steady, but now we’ve seen a continuous growth in north Bossier, so that project is an older project but it’s really timely for what it’s going to do,” she said.
Construction on the parkway is planned to begin in 2018.
The city also plans to widen Viking Drive, which has become another widely used corridor, expected to begin in 2019.
“We improved Viking Drive back in the ‘90s, but we did not anticipate the growth, frankly, and the use of that as far as commerce,” Glorioso said. “Now you’ve got industrial businesses located along Viking Drive, very well used for that, and it’s also become a natural cut-through basically for residential traffic for the growth that’s occurred north of that.”
Another extension ripe for development is Plantation Drive, which Glorioso said was added to eliminate congestion on Airline Drive and Viking Drive. The city hopes to see more retail and office plazas come to that extension.
“It’s good land, there’s no flood elements there to eliminate – here on Innovation Drive we’re also doing a flood study so that could hamper some of that development,” she said. “But we know for a fact that this area to the east, behind the Kroger development, it’s good property, it’s ready to go. That was the whole point of doing that road, to open it up for development.”
One side effect of such projects is that current residents and businesses in those areas must sometimes deal with detours, closed roads and construction traffic.
Multiple business owners in downtown Bossier have complained of lost profits during the yearlong renovation project that transformed Barksdale Boulevard but resulted in temporary road closures and detoured traffic.
“I think when they get everything finished, it will be fine. I just don’t know that we can survive that long,” Beth Carr, owner of Bayou Belle Antique Traders, told The Times in October. “That’s the thing with most of the businesses, is if we can survive.”
Kathleen Hemphill, co-owner of Hoot and Holler Archery, told The Times in February that she felt the city should compensate businesses for profits lost during the construction period.
“We’re excited that the improvement is happening, but when you’re getting affected like this, it’s not exciting anymore,” she said.
In addition, certain types of development aren’t always popular with some citizens.
Walmart’s plan to build a new store in North Bossier at Airline Drive and Wemple Road prompted pushback from residents.
An online petition against the development gained 1,845 signatures, with some residents writing that they wanted to maintain a “small town” feel in their area or were concerned their property values would be affected.
“They were worried about the lights, they were worried about the traffic, they were worried about the crime, those things they say come along with a Super Walmart,” Rockett said.
Though Walmart announced in March that it was nixing its plan to build in that controversial location, Rockett said he thinks it’s only a matter of time before another developer expresses interest in that land.
“I suspect somebody else is going to go in that swath fairly significantly soon,” he said. “Those numbers are that strong.”
Residents of south Bossier also pushed back earlier this year when told of plans for The Preserve subdivision, which some feared would negatively affect traffic and lower their own property values.
The developer and the MPC worked through the subdivision plans to address some of those concerns.
Officials try to master plan as much as possible as they attempt to forecast how the community will grow and be affected by change over the coming years, Rockett said.
“The best laid plans always get thrown in your face sometimes,” he said. “Those swaths of land that are available are going to require infrastructure and some traffic issues. That’s just part of what we’re dealing with.”
Estimated Bossier Population Change
1990 – 52,728
2000 – 55,561
2010 – 61,224
2015 – 68,094
2017 – 68,637
2022 forecast – 73,550
1990 – 86,088
2000 – 98,446
2010 – 116,979
2015 – 125,175
2017 – 134,168
2022 forecast – 145,669
Source: GBEDF Economic Information & Statistics