By Malcolm Butler
All parties involved agree that traffic flow on Tarbutton Road will be one of the biggest challenges that will need to be addressed over the next two years in preparation for the construction and operation of Buc-ee’s.
With Ruston Junior High School located directly across from the land where Buc-ee’s and subsequent, unknown-at-this-time businesses will be built in the near future, traffic flow especially around the early morning and mid-afternoon hours must be addressed.
With a timeline for a January of 2025 opening of the travel center, the city of Ruston is already having conversations with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) according to Mayor Ronny Walker. They are trying to determine the necessary steps and the best solution for adding lanes, stop lights and stop signs that would alleviate traffic problems that would occur otherwise.
“We won’t know anything for sure until the traffic study is done, but we believe that they will have to add some additional lanes,” said Walker. “The traffic study is to help with what we need to do on exit ramps and lanes going into Buc-ee’s.”
According to Walker the traffic study will take months to complete, but that they are already working on some design elements.
“We just had a discussion with Buc-ee’s about that Tuesday,” said Walker. “They have over 50 stores. They know what works in other places.
“It usually takes anywhere from two to six months for the traffic study to be completed and that is being optimistic really. So, we can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. We must be ready based on our discussions with DOTD over the next few weeks.
“We are moving forward with some design elements right now. Buc-ee’s has already given us what they would like to see happen, but the DOTD will have to sign off on anything that is done. They get the final say so as far as the roads go.”
Walker said that there is adequate space for additional lanes to be added, it’s just a matter of determining exactly what is needed.
“When you get off the interstate (going West), there are currently three lanes,” said Walker. “One turns left towards the bridge, one goes straight, and one turns right. I think they will have to put a stop sign to the service road to make people stop instead of just merging. And then I think they will have to have two lanes that turn right onto Tarbutton. Those same two lanes would turn into Buc-ee’s.
“On the flip side going east towards Monroe, it’s one lane now. I think it’s going to have to be two lanes, just like it is on Highway 33. It’s going to have to be very similar to that.”
The Lincoln Parish School District is also discussing solutions on their end to help with traffic flow in the morning and mid-afternoons, according to Superintendent Ricky Durrett.
“I think we have to figure some traffic flow things out, maybe adding some other entrances,” said Durrett.
Ruston Junior High School principal Keisha Douglas said she has heard a few people talking about what impact Buc-ee’s will have on RJHS during drop-off and pickup during the week.
“I’ve heard some traffic questions so far in regard to the school,” said Douglas. “But we have the car line on the south side of the school. The buses come in from Tarbutton, but our parents use the service road. They make the circle and get back onto the Tarbutton exit.
“I don’t foresee there being any issue (by the time Buc-ee’s opens). Mr. (Ricky) Durrett started this conversation with us two weeks ago at our principal’s meeting. I know it’s being discussed.”
Marina Bishop, whose daughter currently attends RJHS, said she is interested to see what will happen to alleviate people’s concerns.
“My main concerns are about traffic flow at Tarbutton and all of its configurations as well as how it will affect Tech Drive,” said Bishop.
Durrett said from the junior high standpoint, there is some talks about adding an additional entrance off the service road that would run behind the school (east side). However, currently, the land that would be needed for that isn’t owned by the school board.
However, Durrett said that discussions area in the works about those options and others.
“I think we do have to figure out some additional traffic flow, maybe using some other entrances,” said Durrett. “Look for an additional entrance to come off the service road. We may do something different with our bus flow too.”
With almost 24 months until Buc-ee’s is scheduled to open, there is adequate time for all parties to address the necessary changes that will need to occur.