When Warren Abadie drives anywhere in Lafayette, he’s on the job. Lafayette Consolidated Government’s top traffic engineer, like his former boss Tony Tramel, is what you might call geeky about traffic: He observes it, studies it, deconstructs it, even when he’s “off the clock.” If Abadie is driving — or a passenger — he’s working.
The 34-year-old UL grad in electrical engineering worked his way up in the Traffic & Transportation Department, beginning as an engineer aide fresh out of college and working his way through the positions of traffic maintenance supervisor, traffic signal/ system engineer to overseeing the entire department. When Tramel retired a few years ago, LCG officials chose to fold Traffic & Trans into Public Works, thus eliminating the department head position Tramel held. But Abadie is the man, overseeing everything traffic-related: road engineering, signals, markers, public transit and public parking. If he could be in charge of our poor driving habits he’d probably take that on, too.
Abadie’s dedication isn’t lost on his boss, Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard: “Warren is full of common sense and practicality,” Blanchard says. “He is always willing to try an innovative idea so long as he believes it will make our roads safer for both drivers and the surrounding homes or businesses.”
That said, ABiz had some questions for LCG’s traffic guru:
What’s the most satisfying aspect of your job?
As Mr. Tramel use to say: “Everything we do and everything we fail to do affects hundreds of thousands of people every day.” I take that responsibility very seriously.
What’s the most frustrating aspect?
Most people drive, so that makes them experts on traffic, right?
In most drivers’ minds, I will be judged on how fast they can get from Point A to Point B during 5 o’clock traffic. I can only play the hand I have been dealt — there are a lot of limiting factors. The layout of most roads in Lafayette happened before I was born (and before my parents were born in many cases). And the Vermilion River is a huge factor. It cuts us in half. In fact, most of our biggest congestion problems involve a road that either crosses the river (Ambassador Caffery, Camellia, Pinhook, Evangeline Thruway) or that parallels the river (Johnston Street and Kaliste Saloom Road).
Try this: Think of a road that runs parallel to the river and think of the intersections there with a road that crosses the river — no matter the combination, you’ve got a congested intersection. The solution in a river city like this? More bridges. That’s not cheap. But it’s why South City Parkway is such an important project.
What is the most pressing transportation issue facing Lafayette right now?
I could say traffic congestion, but that is really the positive side effect of having a thriving community.
I would encourage people to think about their driving habits. Why are people in such a hurry? Why do drivers speed in neighborhoods? Is it because they don’t care or are not paying attention to how fast they are going? Is getting to your destination 20 seconds earlier worth the increased risk of speeding? Do most drivers even have that thought while driving? I don’t think so.
I think people are in the habit of being in a hurry, so every time they get behind the wheel they are in a hurry by habit. How many times have you had a vehicle speed by you on Johnston Street, just to pull up next to them at the next traffic signal. Being in a hurry is not an effective way to get to your destination faster, but is a good way to greatly increase your chance of being in a crash.
I challenge everyone reading this to refuse to be in a hurry while driving for the next three days; make an effort to leave a little earlier. You may be surprised at how relaxing driving can be.
What will be the most pressing transportation issue facing Lafayette in the future?
We can’t keep doing what we have been doing over the last 30 years and expect different results. We can’t keep spending our limited tax dollars to build roads longer, straighter and faster for vehicles only. We have to design roads for all users: vehicles, bikes, pedestrians and transit. We need to think about the impact roads can have on the homes and businesses along them and find a better balance between access and safety. We have to switch our mindset as engineers. We need to stop designing roads that allow for high speeds but then try to get people to slow down with speed limits or speed vans or speed lumps. Instead, we will start designing roads that — while carrying the same capacity — are designed to naturally control speeds. It is safer, but it also makes the road more usable for all users.
What will technology’s impact be on your field in the future?
The biggest impact in the future will be self-driving cars. Google has self-driving cars on the roads today and is in the process of getting them approved to be on the road without a driver nationwide.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation has a goal of zero traffic-related fatalities; I believe that selfdriving cars will make that goal a reality one day. I hope to see it in my lifetime.
Plus, how cool would it be if you were going on vacation, tell the car where you want to go, and then take a nap and wake up there?
How do we get car-crazy Lafayette to embrace mass transit?
Miracles do happen. The great part about transit is its potential to reduce congestion on the roads. If we were only able to get 2 percent of all vehicle trips in the city to be on transit, it would have a monumental reduction in congestion and traffic crashes.
We need to do a better job of letting people know that transit is an option and teaching people how to ride transit. We are currently working on real-time bus tracking systems along with the free WiFi service that we currently offer on the buses. This should help make bus riding more convenient.
Tony Tramel was a traffic geek (in a good way); how would you characterize yourself in terms of your devotion/interest in what you do, especially as it concerns trends in transportation theory or traffic calming?
If you know someone that wants to be a traffic engineer, talk them out of it — just joking.
Traffic engineers are working every time we drive or ride in a vehicle; we can’t get away from it. We are always observing, analyzing, considering alternatives, weighing options, even on vacation — it is ridiculous.
It is because we love what we do and have a passion to make things better, even when our definition of better might differ from the average driver’s definition of better. The profession is changing, with a renewed focus on the overall function of a road — not just about moving traffic, but how the road fits the area around it. It is a good time to be doing this job.
Are there more roundabouts in Lafayette’s future?
Traffic Engineering is a fun field. We get to balance the basic principles of traffic engineering: convenience, efficiency and safety.
If it was all about safety, cars would not go over 5 mph; no one would get hurt on the road.
If it was all about efficiency, we would not allow cars to turn left at major intersections.
If it was all about convenience, there would not be any speed limits.
When we installed no left turn signs on West Congress and Vital last year, we made it safer but less convenient for drivers because they had to travel a little farther to turn at the signal at Foreman.
When we install a four-way stop controlled intersections, we increase safety but make the intersection less efficient and less convenient by making everyone stop.
Roundabouts are one of the only tools in our toolbox that increase safety, efficiency and convenience all at one time. I can guarantee you that you will definitely see more roundabouts in the future. The biggest challenge with retrofitting existing intersections to roundabouts is the additional real estate that is required at the corners.
As the saying goes: “When in doubt, Roundabout.”
What are the five most-pressing road projects in Lafayette today and their status?
1. Kaliste Saloom (widening from Ambassador Caffery to E. Broussard): We’re currently relocating utilities and installing drainage.
2. I-49 connector though Lafayette: This has been around longer than I have been alive; LADOTD has entered into a contract for the final design.
3. South City Parkway extension: We’re in the process of purchasing the first parcel of right-of-way.
4. Widening Verot School Road (LADOTD Project): LADOTD recently bid the project, but it came in over budget.