“We heard loud and clear from you,” planning official on public response to I-49

Preliminary plans for I-49 near downtown Lafayette. The blue lines represent sections elevated on pylons. The green lines represent sections that will be built on earthen berms. (Photo: Claire Taylor, Daily Advertiser)

Since it launched its planning campaign in October, the state Department of Transportation and Development has had to pause and rethink how introduces the Interstate 49 South plan back into a community that looks much different than it did nearly 20 years ago.

The department held its third Community Work Group meeting Tuesday night inside the Lafayette Parish Library’s main branch. The meeting was postponed in December to allow the DOTD and its planning partners to reconsider how it engages the public in planning the completion of I-49 South, particularly its connector through the city, officials said.

“There’s been a lot of change in the community’s leadership and in their activism,” John McNamara, of consulting company Stantec, told the community committee. “And a lot of you weren’t around or you were much younger in 2002 and in 2003. There are new organizations that didn’t exist back at that time.”

McNamara was referring to an environmental impact study and finalized record of decision that was based on 15-year-old data which planned the connector’s route along the Evangeline Thruway.

In the early 2000’s, the city had no 20-year comprehensive plan, central park, master plan to develop its downtown district, he noted.

“From that first 90 days, we came to the conclusion that we had defined the starting point wrong on this project,” he said. “We thought that we were picking up the project where it was left off in 2002 and in 2003 and I think we heard loud and clear from you that things have changed since 2002 and 2003.”

Project planners are now saying they are reassessing the EIS during ongoing planning period which was extended from 18 to now about 23 months.

The decision to extend the planning period came from overwhelming public feedback since October, Steve Wallace a member the DOTD’s project team said. About 200 people attended Saturday’s community workshop on the I-49 connector. The Acadian Group of the Sierra Club’s first grassroots “Y-49” forum in December brought in roughly 300 public attended with dozens of questions and concerns for officials about the project.

“We’ve heard that,” Wallace said. “That’s why the DOTD has decided to insert a phase of about five or six months where we can expand that input and give more opportunity to discuss further.”

The committee is one of three created to assist with planning the 5.5 connector through from the Interstate 10 to the Lafayette Regional Airport. The project’s technical committee meeting is Wednesday morning.

Meetings and public workshops are scheduled throughout this year, including neighborhood walk through the proposed connector’s route on Jan. 24.

For more information or to submit comments on the project http://www.lafayetteconnector.com.

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