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Louisiana editorial roundup

October 23, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Oct. 22

The Houma Courier on drunken drivers:

The recent report of a Raceland man arrested for his 10th driving while intoxicated offense should raise alarm bells in this community.

A system that allows one person to get behind the wheel of a car illegally 10 times is clearly failing and puts both this driver and everyone else on the road in mortal danger.

That drunk driving is a problem is not in dispute. Louisiana has consistently ranked in the top 10 states for alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, 225 people lost their lives in alcohol-related traffic incidents in the state. Thirty percent of all traffic fatalities in Louisiana involved alcohol-impaired drivers, and almost 70% of all DWI fatalities involved drivers whose blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit.

We are willing to concede that this case is an anomaly, and while we do not have all the information on the results of this person’s previous nine DWIs, those charged with protecting the public safety simply have to do better.

There is no excuse for one person to be this dangerous to the public safety this often. To allow a case like this to slip through the cracks puts lives at risk.

This is not necessarily, or solely, a law-enforcement issue. The police did find him breaking the law 10 times. It’s what happened afterward that needs to be re-examined.

There is no simple answer. While “lock him up and throw away the key” can be a tempting if easy response, life imprisonment for a driving offense does not address the root cause of the offense nor does it deter other alcoholics from getting behind the wheel when under the influence.

Somehow, at least 40 of the other 50 states have figured out how to do it better. Some combination of rehabilitation, deterrence and punishment must be better than what Louisiana does now.

Online: www.houmatoday.com

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Oct. 21

The Advocate on how New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell handled the Hard Rock crane demolition:

New Orleans held its collective breath Sunday as it watched the sky over downtown, waiting to see if the dangerously precarious Hard Rock hotel site could be stabilized. For Mayor LaToya Cantrell and other city leaders, it was a hold-your-breath moment, too.

“Cranes in the sky” may have seemed like a pipe dream during the slow years after Hurricane Katrina, but the eventual reality turned terrifying when the recent building collapse left two giant construction cranes badly damaged. Their removal, following an audacious plan to strategically deploy explosives and control the cranes’ fall as best as possible, could have triggered a second catastrophe.

That didn’t happen. And now that all the dust has settled, the city owes its gratitude to the New Orleans Fire Department and other agencies and experts who made this daring operation a safe one.

“I do not think it could have gone much better,” NOFD superintendent Tim McConnell said. “It went down exactly as we expected it to do.”

The lead-up to the demolition was disruptive, to people living and staying nearby who had to clear out and to organizers of major events who had to shift gears. But their frustrations paled in relation to the project’s urgency and delicacy, and its ultimate success.

The good weather held, nobody got hurt, the hulking remains of the Hard Rock still stand. The nearby infrastructure and the surrounding historic buildings, including the lovingly restored Saenger Theatre, escaped without major damage. Officials can now turn their attention to retrieving the bodies of two construction workers who lost their lives in the tragedy, and to figuring out what comes next.

That they can do so without contending with more bad news is the best news anyone could have hoped for.

It’s also a testament to the planning, diligence and care shown by the Cantrell administration and everyone else involved.

Online: www.theadvocate.com

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Oct. 20

The Advocate on the poor conditions of Louisiana roads:

It’s not news that our roads are bumpy and bad. Just how bad?

The latest national analysis shows us. The national transportation nonprofit TRIP said that drivers in Louisiana pay and pay for the problem, directly or indirectly.

The cost of having poor infrastructure in the state is estimated at almost $7 billion a year. That includes not only lost time and wasted gas sitting in traffic jams but the huge costs connected to traffic crashes and automobile repairs.

New struts, anyone? Louisiana drivers pay a hidden tax — not so hidden sometimes at repair shops — because the roads and bridges around here are so deplorable.

The new TRIP report included dim reviews of roads in New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge. In Lafayette, for example, a majority of roads are in “poor” condition. In New Orleans, it’s 59%.

The bright spot is Baton Rouge, with just over a third of streets reported as “poor.” But that doesn’t mean that the capital city is a drivers’ paradise, since the congestion that is choking the city daily — both on the Interstate highways and local roads — is considered an economic development crisis by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Countless problems are caused for farmers and loggers in rural areas when the state Department of Transportation and Development is compelled to close a bridge somewhere, almost weekly.

Both New Orleans and Baton Rouge area drivers lose 58 hours of their lives in traffic congestion, the new report said.

If all this is not exactly news, what can be done about it? There the story is mixed. Baton Rouge city taxpayers have invested more heavily in roads, passing taxes to fund big bond issues during the administrations of former Mayor-President Kip Holden and his successor, Sharon Weston Broome.

In metropolitan New Orleans and Lafayette, though, road and bridge taxes have been a harder sell. Significant conversations are now going on among politicians and community leaders in the city of New Orleans about new investments in road repairs.

In every city and parish, the overarching problem is the gasoline tax, a state revenue source that is vital to transportation across the board. And politicians at the State Capitol have refused to listen to the evidence, or even acknowledge their own experiences with substandard roads, by raising fuel taxes.

Those are at levels of 30 years ago. Purchasing power of the gasoline tax, the main source of infrastructure funding in every state, is now half of what it was in Louisiana before political paralysis set in.

Louisiana drivers will pay significantly more in repair costs than any increase in the gasoline tax will cost them. An adjustment in the tax is long past due.

Online: www.theadvocate.com