The South Traffic Circle
“The reason that North and South Louisiana are so different and disconnected is that you can’t get from one to the other because of the Traffic Circle in Alexandria.”
-Oft-repeated story prior to Interstate 49.
I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about the South Traffic Circle in Alexandria, Louisiana. It’s a huge oval monstrosity that stretches for nearly a mile. There are four highways leading onto/off the Circle.
What makes it such an obstacle is there are two lanes going in the same direction, and if you’re not in the correct lane, you will “circle the Circle” repeatedly as other drivers peel off and others zoom into any open space.
Conversely, if a traveler takes the wrong exit and stops for directions, they are invariably told, “Well, you go back to the Circle and …”
The correct name for a traffic circle is a roundabout. There are several smaller roundabouts in Alexandria that seem to work fine.
I learned a great deal about roundabouts while living in Africa. You’ve never driven until you weave through a clogged roundabout in Kampala, Uganda. You’re driving on the wrong side of the road, and it quickly becomes clear that there are no rules on yielding. It’s every man for himself. (African roundabouts are a story for another day).
Sometimes when DeDe and I eat out in Alexandria, just for fun I’ll go around the Circle for several loops. I’ll say that the extra mileage makes it feel like a real date. (We live within a mile of Logan’s, Outback, and Johnny Carino’s).
At one time, there were two traffic circles in Alexandria. The North Circle was a much smaller circle but equally hated by drivers. It was replaced by spaghetti-shaped overpasses and ramps on I-49.
However, the South Circle lives on in infamy and confusion. It’s the site of collisions on a weekly, if not daily, basis. It’s very common to see police lights and two drivers outside their dented vehicles on the shoulder of the Circle. I’ve read accounts that traffic circles/roundabouts prevent wrecks, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a true believer in Alex (as Alexandria is called by the locals).
It’s no coincidence that a local personal injury lawyer built a three-story office on the Circle. The story is that he has a commanding view of the chaos on the Circle. Word is that he’s thinking of installing a drive-thru alongside his building.
The inside “island” portion of the South Circle is also a source of mystery. It’s a swampy area full of palmetto and standing water. Being a curious soul, I once waded through the island to see what was inside.
I carefully chose cold weather to avoid snakes and possible gator encounters. The water was about knee-deep and the swamp was murky and forbidding as I climbed over fallen trees and swished aside the thick palmetto. It was near dark (I had a flashlight) and deep within the circle, the lights of the city and traffic were obscured. It seemed more like being in the Atchafalaya Swamp instead of amid the busiest party of a city.
In one small open area of the swamp, I jumped up two wood ducks. I wondered if it was legal to shoot ducks in the city limits. I doubt it and don’t plan to try.
With dark falling, I waded out of the Circle swamp, returning to civilization. As I walked around the circle back to my truck, I was reminded of the oddity that the South Traffic Circle is in both legend and notoriety.
From time to time, The Town Talk does an article about plans to replace the South Traffic Circle with a series of overpasses and ramps. Like most Cenla residents I’ll believe it when I see it.