The I-49 Coalition Board of Directors aims to expedite the decades-long process of extending the interstate highway to New Orleans with help from local investors and a unified lobbying force from each involved parish.
A horde of representatives from numerous parishes are much more likely to compete for increasingly limited state funding once the fiscally focused legislative session begins in April, the board contends.
“Not only in Baton Rouge, for the legislative session,” Coalition Chairman David Mann said, “but also to lobby for much larger dollars coming from the federal level.”
Much of that money may have to be spent on highway overpasses and interchanges to facilitate the interstate. Iberia Parish has had a handful of them installed throughout the last 20 years and looks for another at the U.S. 90 intersection with Louisiana 318 to break ground within the month.
“We’ve been working,” coalition board member Craig Romero, executive director of the Port of Iberia, said. “We’ve upgraded our local system with these overpasses. We’ve done a lot of big things, but it’s not over.”
Romero, a former Iberia Parish president and state legislator, pointed out Broussard’s ongoing work on U.S. 90 expansion as a good sign, but numerous other parishes — St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, St. Charles — will have to offer something to bring I-49 to them. Romero, citing the Port’s benefitting from traffic improvements, said the overpasses and interchanges were key. To get the funding for those, he said a united effort was the key.
“When you go to the legislature, it has to be a regional approach,” he said. “If you’re going together on anything when you’re going to Baton Rouge, it helps tremendously.”
Being that the Louisiana 318 overpass alone is looking at a $20 million price tag, plenty of help will be needed. Board member Jason Devillier, director of the Iberia Parish Airport Authority, said Mann brings the leadership to get that help.
“We’re going to make sure I-49 stays on the frontburner, not just for the state, but for the feds,” he said.
Devillier said the accessibility a longer I-49 would provide to Acadiana’s industries stands to benefit his airports, particularly the Acadiana Regional Airport just north of New Iberia. The state’s second busiest airport — which recently unveiled a series of new hangars and plans on opening commercial passenger travel — also lies within the Iberia Parish Economic Development District No. 1, which uses tax increment financing to help fund economic projects in the area.
Mann pointed out the coalition identifies the parishes serviced by U.S. 90 as “America’s Energy Corridor” and called it an important distinction for the region’s effect on the nation economy.
“They don’t just do business here,” he said. “Their headquarters may be here, but they do business across the country.”
Devillier said once the new airport access road to the U.S. 90-Louisiana 675 interchange is complete, the parish stands to benefit a lot from current and future business that can take advantage of the improved access.
“As for the airport, it’s completion is vital to us,” he said. “That (the access road) with the combination of I-49, we’re just going to start booming.”
Mann said he believed it was important to look at all types of funding — including tolls, grants and government funding — because it was such a large endeavor.
“DOTD is the one who will build the road,” he said.
“They have the final say. We’re going to work with them to get them some funding.”