Officials on I-49: ‘Can’t give community everything they want’

DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, left, listens as Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux addresses an I-49 Lafayette connector committee Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Photo: Claire Taylor/Daily Advertiser)

LAFAYETTE, LA (The Daily Advertiser) – Louisiana’s transportation secretary and Lafayette’s mayor-president reminded consultants recently  that planning for the Interstate 49 connector must include the reality check that is funding.

Since last fall, consultants have been gathering input and feedback from the community about the proposed 5.5-mile long, six-lane wide interstate that will skirt Lafayette Regional Airport, downtown Lafayette and several of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, while a parallel effort is underway to protect and enhance the neighborhoods near the new interstate.

Rarely has the discussion thus far included how to pay for the project estimated to cost between $700 million and $1 billion.

But Shawn Wilson, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development secretary, said at a meeting of the Lafayette I-49 Connector executive committee March 16 that money has to be part of evaluating design options.

“I know we can’t give the community everything they want” because the state can’t afford it, Wilson said.

Cost has to be part of the three-tiered evaluation of 12 design options on the table, he said, so that leaders can explain to the community why certain items cannot be built.

Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux agreed.

“The public needs to be made aware that we’re not going to do a $5 billion project if we can do it for $2 billion,”  Robideaux said.

He suggested community working groups advise people that cost is a factor so they don’t think elaborate and expensive options will be incorporated into the design only to have the executive committee kill the ideas.

The executive committee, which includes major stakeholders like Lafayette Consolidated Government, Acadiana Planning Commission and the DOTD, will make the final decision on which design gets sent to the Federal Highway Administration for approval. Two other committees, a community working group and technical advisory committee, offer input and make recommendations to the executive committee.

The final Environmental Impact Statement for the project was published in August 2002 and a Record of Decision from the FHWA giving the project the go-ahead was issued in January 2003. Efforts stalled for several years, but were restarted last fall.

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