LIVINGSTON – Congestion along interstate highways and other major arteries has posed major hardships for businesses throughout the area.
A panel of four members of the area business community discussed those hardships Monday during a field hearing on small businesses hosted by U.S. Senator David Vitter at the Livingston Parish Council Chambers.
Donny Rouse, a managing partner with Rouses Enterprises LLC, said delays along the interstate highways puts his 47-store chain at a disadvantage.
The delays go beyond Louisiana, he said.
In the case of items shipped from the West Coast, poor road conditions and traffic congestion along the arteries has added to the shipping time, which already takes three or four days, in some cases.
The road projects add to delivery time, which often poses a problem with the transportation of perishable items en route to Associated Wholesale Grocers, the Rouses distributor based in Pearl River.
“Those delays result in lost sales in our stores,” Rouse said. “It’s entirely possible that our stores can be out of certain perishable items for as long as three or four days.”
AWG reported more than 460 inbound delays last year, with an average delay of 2.8 days, he said.
The loss and shortages result in an estimated loss of 1 percent annually to Rouses.
“Our business model requires the highest quality and lowest price,” Rouse said. “Any delay in delivering of goods due to congestion of our stores negatively affects our ability to operate our stores properly.”
Wayne Dugas, director of dealer sales for Lard Oil and chairman of the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce, said delays often lead to two fuel deliveries rather than three on a given day.
“That may not sound like much, but it’s a thirty-three percent loss in productivity – very costly on a small business,” he said. “Our drivers get frustrated because they think they’re not meeting expectations.”
The congestion also forces drivers to transport gas and diesel on alternate routes which do not normally accommodate larger vehicles, Dugas said.
“We don’t like having to carry 8,500 gallons of gas or diesel on roads that don’t normally accommodate larger vehicles,” he said.
Aside from the safety issues, the congestion results in more travel time for the many Livingston Parish residents who commute to East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes for work each day.
“You have some people who spend three hours a day on the road just commuting to and from work,” Dugas said. “As for our customer base in Lafayette, traffic on the Atchafalaya becomes a nightmare. It makes you rethink and reschedule your work day on a daily basis.”
Larry Collins, president and CEO of the Livingston Economic Development Council, said surface streets face many of the same problems as the interstate corridor.
He urged consideration for exits and existing traffic on high volume surface streets, which regularly accommodate gridlock.
“It’s unsafe, it’s hard on businesses and discourages new businesses from moving into what are otherwise very desirable and viable locations,” Collins said.
Randy Guillot, president of Triple G Express Trucking in New Orleans, said congestion cost the economy $121 billion in 2011.
He urged Vitter to push for improvement on the flow along interstate for trucks delivering goods to businesses.
Seventy-eight percent of the communities across America are completely dependent on trucks for delivery of goods and services, Guillot said.
“With the anticipation of residential and commercial growth along the corridors, it has become even more important to monitor traffic management strategies along those corridors,” he said. “It’s also critical that we improve port operations here if we want to continue to compete with other parts of the country.”