DALLAS - Lafayette Parish, La., would replace much of its deteriorating rural road network with proceeds from a proposed $26 million general obligation bond sale.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council, the legislative body for the combined city and parish government, will consider setting an April election for the GO package when it meets next week.

The parish - which is equivalent to a county - has determined that it needs to rebuild 62 miles of rural roads from the base up and replace 17 bridges, according to Pat Logan, associate director of public works for the combined government.

"If we don't fix these roads, we might as well pulverize them and turn the roadways back into aggregate," Logan said. "We want to completely rebuild the roads, not just patch and seal them."

If the 17 bridges are not replaced with the proposed bond proceeds, Logan said, they would have to be closed and decommissioned within two years.

The road projects would cost $16 million, with $10 million for the bridge replacements. If voters approve the bonds, work would begin in 2010.

Rural roads and bridges in the parish have been neglected for many years, Logan said.

"This is a small parish, and the tax base of the rural areas has shrunk as the area has gotten smaller due to annexation by the city and other municipalities," he said. "The roads and bridges in the unincorporated areas have not been maintained."

The parish is currently spending $1.5 million a year on asphalt resurfacing and $1.2 million on bridge maintenance in the unincorporated areas, according to Logan.

"That just doesn't cut it," he said.

Parish officials said approval of the bonds would not require an increase in the property tax.

The bonds would be supported for the next 25 years with a portion of the property tax revenue generated by an existing 3.5 mill parish-wide tax. Existing debt can be supported with two mills of the tax, leaving 1.5 mills available for the proposed bond package.

Supporting the bonds would cost the owner of a $150,000 home about $7.50 a year, the parish said.

The city of Lafayette and Lafayette Parish consolidated their governments and financial reporting in fiscal 1996, but each remains a separate entity responsible for its own GO debt.

Lafayette Parish's GOs are rated Aa3 by Moody's Investors Service and A-plus by Standard & Poor's. The parish has $47.8 million of outstanding GO debt.

No projects within the city of Lafayette are included in the current list of projects to be financed with the proposed bonds, but Logan said that might change. Urban roads are for the most part in good shape because the city has sufficient tax revenues to maintain them, he said.

"We are considering increasing the bond program by another $1.5 million to take care of some of the city's needs," he said. "That would allow the city to spend more of its money on roads further down on the priority list, and provide an incentive for voters within the city limits to support the rural road bonds."

Lafayette Parish is located in south-central Louisiana, about halfway between New Orleans and Houston. The parish has a population of approximately 230,000, with 200,000 residing in the city of Lafayette.

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