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BROUSSARD – The completion of the I-49 South Corridor was the focus of One Acadiana’s final installment of its conference Thursday at Billeaud Companies.
The remaining cost of the project, which would transform the 160-mile stretch of U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans into an interstate, is about $3 billion.
That’s the project’s biggest hurdle, One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi said.
But efforts to complete the corridor “one bite at a time” are underway, its advocates said Thursday.
One Acadiana officials were joined by representatives of Billeaud Co., Schilling Distribution, state lawmakers and the I-49 South Coalition, which is now housed within One Acadiana.
As the fourth and final installment of the regional chamber’s “Priorities for a Better Acadiana” series, the organization emphasized that the completion of I-49 South is its top priority.
“U.S. 90 was not designed to handle the amount of traffic it now supports,” said Kam Movassaghi, former secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development. “Parts of U.S. 90 are currently handling more than one and a half times their daily capacity.”
Transforming U.S. 90 into a major corridor could also boost economic growth in South Louisiana by attracting oil and gas industry expansion. It would also improve hurricane evacuation, officials said.
Although funding is scarce for the project, it should be in the forefront of the priority list for state and federal lawmakers, I-49 South Coalition Chairman David Mann said. There’s already $12 billion worth of infrastructure projects in the state’s backlog.
“Roughly $3 billion is required to complete I-49 South alone,” Mann said. “Completing I-49 South and reducing the state’s backlog is going to be a heavy lift, requiring roughly $500 million to $1 billion per year in net additional funding for state transportation infrastructure for the next decade.”
Moody’s Investors Services has given Louisiana a favorable Aa3 rating on $73.7 million in unclaimed property revenue bonds that will be used to continue work on completing Interstate 49 South, State Treasurer John Kennedy said in an issued statement Thursday.
Kennedy said he intends to sell some $70 million to $80 million in bonds, probably within the next few weeks. He said his office is waiting for additional credit ratings to arrive, including one from Standard & Poor’s, in order to bolster the state’s financial reputation and lower the interest the state will pay. He said S&P may respond within the next few days, perhaps as early as Friday, but he cautioned that the ratings services operate independently; there’s no guarantee S&P will issue a favorable report.
“This is a victory for the citizens of Louisiana,” Kennedy said of Moody’s assessment, which came Thursday. “Moody’s could have downgraded us, but they didn’t. They have left us on negative credit watch, and Moody’s is giving new leadership time to fix our problems.” Louisiana will hold state elections on Oct. 24.
Kennedy said he asked Moody’s not to lower the state’s credit rating, which he said was a possibility.
“Moody’s kept us on a negative credit watch,” he said, “but they aren’t going to downgrade us. They will wait for new leadership in Baton Rouge: a new governor, a new Legislature and new officials.
“We had all four wheels in the ditch,” Kennedy said of the state’s fiscal situation. “The Legislature got one wheel out. The next administration deserves a chance to fix this.”
Kristy Nichols, commissioner of administration, was more upbeat about the state’s finances.
“Today’s affirmation from Moody’s reflects that we made concrete progress in structurally balancing the state’s budget. I’m confident that the outlook will improve in the future as the ratings agencies see that we have been responsive in addressing their concerns,” she said in an issued statement.
Louisiana’s bond sale will finance construction on portions of I-49 South, a top priority locally for One Acadiana and, before it, for the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. Excess annual collections from the unclaimed property program pay the debt service on the bonds without anyone losing unclaimed property money, Kennedy said.
As treasurer, Kennedy is authorized by the Legislature to sell up to $200 million in bonds for the highway financing; his office sold $113 million in December 2013. Eighty million dollars more would keep him within the Legislature’s limit. Kennedy said that the bonds are usually purchased by large institutional investors like Fidelity Investments or Goldman Sachs, although some individuals buy government bonds.
In its summary rating rationale, Moody’s noted that Louisiana’s credit rating reflects “continued budget gaps due to underperforming revenues; the use of nonrecurring resources to plug budget gaps; the ongoing slump in the oil and gas markets, and; the challenges the state faces in dealing with rising Medicaid and fixed costs.”
To the good, Moody’s noted the state made progress in narrowing its budget imbalance for 2016 and revenues generated by its recent share of the $18.7 billion settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident.
“There is no denying that Louisiana has serious budget issues. Moody’s noticed that we’re budgeting too much nonrecurring money and not doing anything about our runaway pension liability,” Kennedy said. “We asked Moody’s not to downgrade us and to give the next governor and Legislature time to fix the problems. I’m thankful that Moody’s listened.”
Nichols said the report notes that the fiscal 2016 budget closed a gap of about $1.6 billion by increasing recurring revenues, reducing the use of one-time funding sources to about $550 million and implementing cost savings.
Greater Baton Rouge Business Report – I-49 South has been in the works for decades. But the $3 billion project is coming together, mile by mile.
The signs are still there, strung along U.S. 90 in Lafayette, hinting at an impending interstate that will someday connect the Hub City to the Crescent City. “Future I-49 Corridor,” they read.
These signs are nothing new. I-49 South has been in the works since 1987. So after all these years, what is the status of the proposed interstate corridor? Has the initiative died off or is it still moving forward?
The Department of Transportation and Development says the project is, in fact, alive and well. Over the years, I-49 South has gradually progressed piece by piece. Today the future corridor is more than 50% complete, and several groups, businesses and legislators have gotten behind the push to finish the project.
I-49 South, known as the “Energy Corridor,” comprises the final, 160-mile leg of the interstate that runs along what is now U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans. Much of the intended route, an estimated 100 miles, is already up to interstate standards, but about 60 miles remain undone, including pricey portions through Lafayette and from Raceland to New Orleans.
“There has been plenty of work done,” says David Mann, chairman of the I-49 South Coalition, a group of business owners who advocate for the funding and completion of the corridor. “You gotta have faith.”
Mann and other proponents say the future corridor will significantly benefit not only Acadiana, but the entire state, by enhancing economic development, increasing safety, reducing travel times and providing an alternate hurricane evacuation route.
“Safety is number one,” says Doug Place, executive vice president of Dupre Logistics, a trucking services company based in Lafayette with locations around the country.
Place says the company’s truck drivers often travel from I-10 in Lafayette to New Iberia, where a number of accidents occur. Having an interstate to travel on, instead of U.S. 90 with traffic and stoplights, would greatly reduce risks and provide a safer, more efficient commute.
Another justification for I-49 South is that it gives commuters driving from Lafayette to New Orleans another route to take instead of I-10, which is infamous for its traffic delays on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge and when entering Baton Rouge. Place also stressed the importance of I-49 as an alternate hurricane evacuation route.
(Click on map to enlarge)
A BUSINESS PRIORITY
The benefits of the future corridor are clear, but the project has been a long time coming, and people may have lost faith in it along the way. Yet, there seems to be reason for hope again.
“People had been discouraged until about a year ago, but there’s been a renewed interest,” Place says. “By legislators introducing and passing bills, they’re saying it’s time to pay attention to our infrastructure.”
Securing funds for projects like I-49 South is often what holds up the construction process, but proponents say government officials are beginning to recognize the need for the corridor and looking at ways to fund it.
“Both at the federal and state level, we need transportation funding solutions,” says Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of One Acadiana, formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. “Many, many places including Acadiana have had to wait too long for critical infrastructure projects.”
As head of One Acadiana, El Koubi has had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of business owners across Acadiana who have told him I-49 South is a top priority for them. In response, One Acadiana has made the future corridor its top priority as well.
The organization is working to sustain momentum, get the word out and accelerate funding and design plans for I-49 South. Members are also collaborating with gubernatorial candidates to put their support behind the project.
El Koubi says the corridor will have a huge economic impact, especially for the state’s the oil and gas industry as these products are frequently transported along the route, and it will increase tourism in Louisiana by providing a “more robust linkage” between two major tourist areas: New Orleans and Acadiana.
The entirety of I-49 South will cost an estimated $3 billion, says Deidra Druilhet, a spokeswoman at the DOTD. But that price is just half of what the project was originally expected to cost.
“Funding plays a significant role. That’s the ultimate thing,” Druilhet says. “We are strategically placing the funds we do have in the right areas for the project. But of course, it’s a $3-billion project. We’re also looking for alternative sources.”
Several separate sections make up I-49 South. Most have been completed and some are currently being worked on, such as the U.S. 90 Interchange at Ambassador Caffery in Broussard, where the road will be widened to six lanes.
DOTD will also soon award a design-build contract for the U.S. 90 Interchange at LA 318 in St. Mary Parish, expected to begin in late 2015 or early 2016. A number of smaller projects, like creating frontage and service roads, have also been completed over the years.
One of the major sections left is the $750-million Lafayette Connector, which will run from I-10 to Pinhook Road, just past the Lafayette Regional Airport. Druilhet said design work for the connector is set to begin this summer. The other major project is the route from Raceland to the West Bank Expressway, which is in the initial planning stage.
Although a final completion date for I-49 South has not been set, DOTD is fully committed to seeing the project through.
“We want a reliable, efficient, safe highway network,” Druilhet says. “One that will sustain economic development and improve the daily commute for workers.”
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced Monday that it has signed a design-build contract, as part of the Geaux South program, for the construction of the U.S. 90 (future I-49 South) at Louisiana 318 interchange project in St. Mary Parish.
The design-build contractor is Gilchrist Construction Co., who has selected Stantec as its lead designer.
The project will involve upgrading the existing U.S. 90 and Louisiana 318 signalized intersection to a full control of access, grade-separated interchange including the reconstruction of the U.S. 90 frontage roads to provide local access to Louisiana 318.
As part of the plan, the project would improve connectivity for industrial and freight transport to the sugar mill and port-related industries, as well as increase capacity and improve overall mobility.
The $56 million project will be primarily funded with unclaimed property funds.
Work is estimated for completion in just over two years.
The Geaux South program is a $3 billion program dedicated to upgrading U.S. 90 to interstate standards.
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by Ken Stickney
Interstate 49 south efforts are making incremental progress, with a favorable bid received for reworking an intersection in St. Mary Parish and design plans progressing on the route that will link Shreveport to New Orleans, mostly along U.S. Highway 90.
But the big money for executing the project from Lafayette to New Orleans, the southern portion of the route in Louisiana, may not show up until 2020, when the department hopes to capitalize on additional funding scheduled to be gained through the Vehicle Sales Tax.
In response to a question from state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, Secretary of Transportation and Development Sherri LeBas told the Senate Finance Committee on Monday that bids were taken for work at the intersection of U.S. 90 and La. 318 in St. Mary Parish, along the route. The low bid of about $55 million came in about $4 million under the projection; a contract may be signed by May or June.
LeBas said that St. Mary project would leave an intersection at U.S. 90 and Ambassador Caffery in Lafayette and an intersection of U.S. and La. 88 in St. Martin Parish as the lone projects remaining for I-49 south below the Lafayette airport to St. Mary. The remainder of the route between those points meet standards for interstate highways.
LeBas said a consultant is at work on the Lafayette Connector, which would run from Interstate 10 to Pinhook Road.
The good news, she said, is that design work is progressing and will be well along when the Vehicle Sales Tax money — she said it would provide around $400 million a year — becomes available, probably in 2020. The Lafayette Connector alone will cost about $750 million.
LeBas appeared before the finance committee Monday morning to discuss her department’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, expressed concern to LeBas about state bridges that were out of service in his area, which includes St. Landry Parish, especially bridges in rural areas. He asked about the possibility of building lower-cost bridges, perhaps using timber, to replace some of those. He suggested it might be better to build several lower-cost bridges than one expensive bridge.
LeBas said she would review that possibility.
Department of Public Safety Secretary James LeBlanc told the Senate Finance committee that the state prison population is declining and the average cost of housing a prisoner remains lower in Louisiana than elsewhere. He said the state pays $36.59 a day to house a prisoner, on average. That includes state, local and private facilities. The cost of housing a prisoner in North Carolina is some $75 a day, one committee member said.
Nonetheless, Louisiana continues to have the country’s highest incarceration rate: about 840 prisoners per 100,000 people, LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said the projected fiscal 2016 budget of $785.6 million was OK and that reductions of some $25 million were “manageable,” given the decrease in prisoners.
“It’s not anywhere like it was,” he said. “We had reached the breaking point.”
Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, said State Police had 1,015 state trooper commissioned officers as of January. The number of troopers had been as low as 917, after five years with no trooper classes.
Edmonson said one class was graduated in 2014, one graduated earlier this year and a third class will graduate by the end of the year. He said the recommended budget of $52,799,104 was “barebones,” but that the State Police would do what was needed to protect the public.
“I just want to have the tools in their toolbox so they can effectively do their job,” he said.
He said the department could not sustain additional cuts and remain as effective.
TheAdvocate.com: Officials discuss funding possibilities to complete I-49 South
LAFAYETTE — Tolls starting at 18 cents a mile could pay from one-quarter to one-half of the more than $3 billion price tag to complete Interstate 49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans, according to a state-funded feasibility study unveiled Monday.
“Tolls are probably going to have to be an integral part of getting I-49 done, as long as people are getting what they are paying for,” said state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, the main force behind the recent formation of the I-49 South Coalition, a group of politicians, business owners and economic development officials trying to push the project forward.
Allain and others said they were disappointed Monday that the feasibility study didn’t find the toll revenue could pay for a bigger chunk of I-49 South.
“We realize this is not necessarily the best of news,” said Dennis Decker, assistant secretary of multimodal planning for DOTD.
The numbers should not be discouraging, said Michael Copeland, a planner with consultant CDM Smith, the company that did the toll feasibility study.
“It’s very rare for a facility nowadays to completely pay for itself,” he said.
The toll study looked at the financial feasibility of tolling the entire 145-mile stretch from Lafayette to New Orleans or tolling only segments within that stretch, with tolls collected in each segment supporting work only in that segment.
The study found that tolls collected along the entire 145-mile route could pay from 26 percent to 51 percent of the project.
The numbers were similar — 27 percent to 53 percent — if tolls were collected only on the portion from I-10 stretching 59 miles south to the Wax Lake outlet.
The figures looked better for a 50-mile stretch about midway between Lafayette and New Orleans — toll funding could pay for 54 percent to 106 percent of the project — but most of that portion is already complete.
The study assumes tolls starting at a rate of 18 cents a mile and rising over 15 years to 25 cents a mile.
DOTD has done several projects in recent years that have brought much of U.S. 90 up to interstate standards.
The big-ticket items that remain include the portion of the interstate near New Orleans and the elevated I-49 Connector through Lafayette, which is estimated at more than $700 million.
It seems unlikely a project of that magnitude will be built without the help of toll dollars, said Mike Michot, a former state senator serving as director of the I-49 South Coalition.
“We are finding that more of the stakeholders are open to tolls as a viable option,” Michot said.
Allain said any toll proposal would need to focus not on the entire stretch from Lafayette to New Orleans but on areas where upgrades are still needed, because drivers likely will not want to pay tolls in areas where U.S. 90 already meets interstate standards, which it does in large sections of St. Mary and Iberia parishes.
“Politically, it’s going to be a very big challenge,” he said.