State Representative feels education and infrastructure are way forward

Charlotte Guedry

State Representative Mert Smiley has been serving District 88 since 2003. Since that time of representation for both Ascension and Livingston Parishes, Smiley has been Vice Chairman of Government Affairs, and sat on both the Louisiana appropriations and Judiciary Committees.

What stands out most, however, is his love for home, Ascension Parish.

“I’ve been here all my life,” said Smiley. “Ascension Parish really does have the kindest, most generous people I know. There’s nowhere I would rather be.”

Recently Smiley visited the Gonzales Weekly Citizen office to talk about this year’s executive session, and what plans decision makers have for us locally.

“Education needs to be a real priority in this parish,” he said. “We have a good, solid system in place, but need to do even better to have a great one.”

Smiley’s main focus is the education of the young adults within Ascension, and feels that if they are provided with a solid foundation now, that is accessible to them, then that may assist with helping them to stay within the parish.

“We have a wonderful community college in our area,” he said. “It my be moving sites over to the new Edenbourne complex, which may also have another area high school created as well. Young people are our future. They need to have solid resources, so their futures can be a bright as possible.”

Having a local, organized community college system within Ascension is something that Smiley feels all residents can and should be proud of.

“River Parishes Community College is the fastest growing community college in the entire Louisiana system,” he said. “That is wonderful for Ascension. Having such a great facility right here on our doorstep makes the community more productive. It also attracts  people from outside of Ascension to come into the area  and benefit from all we have to offer.”

Also on the agenda this year has been the many ways to deal with Ascension’s growing population. Smiley has been working on infrastructure projects for a few years now that will combat some of the issues people have with the influx of people in the parish.

“I met with government officials about three years ago,” he said. ”We wanted to all figure out what we could do to alleviate mobility in the parish. We wanted to get people moving again, not sitting in the increasing traffic.”

Smiley worked with parish and state officials on pinpointing 15 major intersections throughout Ascension that needed improvement.

“People want work to be done quickly, so the idea is to improve what we already have by adding new turn lanes or signals, rather than create entirely new areas.,” he said.

This quicker turn around time means that drivers in the parish currently at a standstill in congested areas, will see progress on a faster scale.

“A lot of the work will be completed by the end of this year, or early next year at the latest,” he said. “Workers have already completed a massive project at Hwy. 22 and Airline Highway in Sorrento.”

The infrastructure projects have seen 15 million in funds already coming from state and federal governments. However, some are complaining that the process is taking too much time.

“There will always be people who want quicker action, but they need to realize that we have had a growth of over 40,000 people in Ascension throughout the last eight to ten years,” said Smiley. “I can’t think of any area that would be ready or equipped for numbers like that. Ascension, though, has done a great job accommodating everyone. It’s a parish that should make people proud.”

Smiley also stated that the lack of urgency from funds being released federally is often cause for the hold-ups.

“Federal funding and their timelines often put up roadblocks for us,” he said. “We try to use state funds until the federal money is released, but it’s not like Louisiana has in excess of 40 million in their pocket.”

Representative Smiley is hoping that when people see the changes being made in Ascension Parish, they can notice exactly what the community has to offer them. He wants people to stay.

“I’ve been here all my life. I graduated from East Ascension in 1969, along with a lot of my class who went on the be locally elected public officials. I live at Lake in St. Amant, and have no plans to go anywhere else. I want people to see Ascension the way I do; to be proud to call it home. By making them know that our community is safe, with problems being solved, and our education system improving, I think they’ll see there’s nowhere better to call home.