TheAdvertiser.com: I-49 Coalition using election to boost passage between cities
In operation for just more than a year, the I-49 South Coalition is taking its message on the road and using upcoming state elections as a platform to promote the interstate portion that will connect Lafayette to New Orleans.
The 20-member organization has already held two town hall meetings with gubernatorial candidates U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, and most recently Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
“The plan for the coalition is to hold town hall meetings from Lafayette to New Orleans for those that are interested in running for governor or other positions with the state,” I-49 South Coalition Chairman David Mann told The Daily Advertiser. “We are also going to be doing some meetings for different groups where we are asked to give updates and different information.”
Monday’s update during a town hall meeting in Broussard included a presentation about the state Department of Transportation’s one-piece-at-time strategy to eventually vie for federal funds to complete the interstate from Lafayette to New Orleans.
“If we are going to compete for projects, we need to have projects ready to go,” Shawn Wilson, chief of staff to the secretary at the DOTD said Monday.
Wilson carried a piece of ribbon cut on Monday during a ceremony in Shreveport marking the opening of another 10 miles from Interstate 49 North to the Arkansas state line.
“The comments about this are that it’s not going to make a great hill of beans until we get the portion of the south to New Orleans done,” Wilson said. “The thing is that you’ve got friends in the north who are cheering for this part to get done.”
Building interchanges through U.S. 90 mark an initial step to make the route ready to be upgraded into an interstate, Wilson said. Some of construction has already started in Broussard at the U.S. 90 and Albertson’s Parkway intersection.
The Broussard project, which is being done through a “design-build” process, will in total cost $57 million. Some of it is being paid for through the sale of unclaimed property, Wilson said.
“So we are excited about the overpass that’s being built here,” he said. “That’s not the most critical portion. I think the most critical portion is getting projects ready.”
The design-build process allows the state to hire a contractor without bidding out the project. Dardenne acknowledged that the method has been criticized in the past, but it’s necessary to complete the interchanges at a faster pace.
“The reality is that there is a severe shortage of money,” Dardenne said Monday. “The good news is that design-build has really helped this a lot in stages. I know it used to be a dirty word, but it’s effective in the particular projects because at least you are able to move a lot quicker and you understand what the end product is going to be because you’ve selected the engineer.”
Right now the money isn’t there for other projects such as the $15 million to $25 million interchange at Verot School Road and the connector from I-10 to Lafayette Regional Airport, Wilson admitted.
“We are actually in the preliminary stages for the I-49/I-10 connector,” Wilson said. “The design is about a $60 million design and construction is about $750 million. I don’t want to set the expectation that we are going to have the dollars to build that at any point in time or in any one-lump sum, but the most important thing is that we should be in a position to complete it in the near future. When I say ‘near,’ I mean a couple years from now as we get to the point where we will be able to compete for those federal dollars.”
Dardenne said those dollars could come from the capital outlay fund and state vehicle sales tax.
DOTD District Engineer Administrator Bill Oliver said the connector would have minimal impact to Lafayette’s airport with the possible construction of the new terminal.
“It requires one end of the runway to be shortened and shifted. That’s all,” Oliver said.
A feasibility study released by the state last month said collecting an 18-cents-per-mile toll could pay for 30 percent to 40 percent of I-49 South, but other options should be considered, Dardenne said.
Andre Comeaux attended last week’s town hall meeting as a representative of Regions Insurance Group in Lafayette, which just joined the coalition. Comeaux said he also intends for run for state representative in District 45.
He said whether or not to establish tolls is an option that should be weighed carefully.
“I don’t think anyone should say, ‘Yes, I’m for tolls’ or ‘No, I’m against tolls,’” Comeaux said. “It’s still too soon.”
LAFAYETTE TO NEW ORLEANS: BIG NUMBERS
Cost of the Broussard portion of the I-49 highway project.
Cost of the interchange at Verot School Road and the connector from I-10 to Lafayette Regional Airport.
Cost of the design for the I-49/I-10 connector.
Cost of the construction of the I-49/I-10 connector.