Thursday, February 22, 2007

Post-Katrina Baton Rouge struggles with its identity

This article from USA Today highlights the changing landscape in Baton Rouge following Hurricane Katrina.

Perhaps no other city was affected more by the hundreds of thousands of people who fled New Orleans after Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005. Within days, Baton Rouge, a city of 225,000, was an overwhelmed mass of about 500,000.

Many evacuees were just passing through, but city officials say that today, Baton Rouge's population remains 275,000-325,000. From the Los Angeles-style gridlock on Interstate 10 to the overcrowded schools and the escalating real estate prices that have fueled a housing crunch, Baton Rouge has the look and feel of a place grappling for control of its direction.

Baton Rouge's population has reached the mark that pre-Katrina projections estimated for the year 2030. Government officials say their planning for a range of projects has had to be accelerated by up to a quarter-century.

"We'll never be the Baton Rouge we were prior to Katrina," Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden says.

Holden credits his election in November 2004 to a campaign that emphasized transportation improvements. However, it wasn't until after Katrina that voters approved the $500 million plan to improve roads. Three dozen congestion spots are targeted for improvements; about 80% of the work will be done in the next decade.

"The city has changed," Holden says, adding that state and federal assistance will be needed.