Residents demand boulevard as I-49 connector alternative

Lafayette resident Martial Broussard, left, who put tape over his mouth at a March meeting after he was prevented from asking questions about the I-49 Lafayette connector project, speaks with project manager Toby Picard of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development on April 27, 2016, in Lafayette, LA. (Photo: Claire Taylor/Daily Advertiser)

LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – One of three Interstate 49 connector’s committees received the latest reports on the proposed 13 projects Wednesday night. The problem is that several members don’t want the project at all.

Now, nearly five months into planning the 5.5-mile interstate connector through the city, many who have volunteered to join the DOTD’s planning and design process are feeling like they are getting a raw deal.

“I like you guys. We’ve gotten to know each other very well,” Kate Durio, member of the project’s Community Work Group committee and The705, said to I-49 connector consultants and DOTD official Wednesday night.  “But I feel like our feedback is hitting a brick wall.”

She was among several others who have requested a study to be conducted on alternatives to the proposed interstate connector, more specifically a major boulevard that would span about eight blocks through the city rather than a major overpass near downtown and historic neighborhoods.

Such a proposal could stall a federal project 20 years in a making, DOTD project manager Toby Picard said.

“It can be part of a basic study, but the final finished product for this project is the I-49 connector,” Picard replied, “connecting Interstate 49 from where it ends now to New Orleans. Having an interstate stop at a boulevard is not going to happen in this project.”

That argument continued inside the Lafayette Parish Library’s main branch for nearly an hour before scheduled discussion on a recently unveiled new design took place.

The new design, called Refinement Concept 6A, I-49 would be “semi-depressed” about 8 to 10 feet below the existing Evangeline Thruway from just south of Pinhook Road to Hobson Street. Berms would be built along the interstate to reduce noise. Cross streets, including Pinhook, Taft, Johnston, 6th, Jefferson, 2nd, 3rd, Simcoe and Mudd, would be elevated to pass over the interstate.

Issues like possible flooding due to a semi-depressed design are still being addressed, officials said.

But some at meeting continued to press a boulevard route as an option.

“I’m asking for you to look at something that might be a better alternative for our community,” said John Arceneaux, a Freetown resident and member of the Community Work Group.

Monique Boulet, CEO of the Acadiana Planning Commission, then agreed to create a model of a boulevard alternative.

The request isn’t far-fetched, said John McNamara of consulting firm AECOM. He said he’ll bring the boulevard alternative to the project’s technical advisory board and then to the DOTD and the Federal Highway Administration, which oversee the project.

“We will take a look at an at-grade facility that could carry 100,000 ADT (average daily traffic) and what would that mean,” he said. “Are we all good on doing that? That can be done. It’s not too difficult of a question.”

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