The Town of Jena, Louisiana, the seat of La Salle Parish, is a community of over 3,000 residents located in Central Louisiana. Its advantageous location along Highway 84 (Hwy 84), one hour northeast of Alexandria and one hour south of Monroe has caused Jena to experience significant growth due to spillover from the nearby cities and the growing oil and gas industry. As a result, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) initiated plans to widen Hwy 84 to four lanes – construction that threatened to wipe out downtown Jena completely. Mayor Murphy McMillin understood this threat and also realized this situation provided a significant opportunity for commercial and industrial growth.
Rather than sit back and allow Jena to simply absorb the blow from the proposed highway construction, Mayor McMillin sought out help from CPEX to positively shape the impacts of the coming investment. Guided by the town’s planning goals, CPEX and a consultant team led by Austin-based Code Studio drafted a plan to allow Jena’s community to grow while maintaining its small town rural character. This would mean protecting and improving downtown while not being a hindrance on Hwy 84 capacity improvement efforts.
CPEX helped assemble a Core Support Group that was the champion and sounding board for the consultant team during the nine month planning process. Additionally, our public outreach expertise was used to maximize the amount of public input and participation and included fliers, emails, newspaper articles, social media and public meeting announcements over the radio-waves. Followed by kick-off meeting, open house and presentation, stakeholder interviews, and public participation charrette enabled residents to offer further suggestions, input, and ideas on draft concepts for Jena.
The Jena Town Plan was adopted January 26, 2010 and includes both a policy component to guide incremental change over time and a design component to guide physical improvements. A significant piece of this plan is the proposed realignment of Hwy 84 to four one-way travel lanes, two in each direction and a proposed cross section that includes two 8-foot parking lanes and two 10-foot one-way travel lines. Additionally, a promenade in downtown Jena has been envisioned, closed to vehicular traffic and used for special events, and will include tree plantings, improved sidewalks and angled parking. Both the Hwy 84 realignment and promenade development are anticipated to bring business to downtown Jena.