(LAFAYETTE, La.) –With U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy present, the completion of Interstate 49 was touted as one of the state’s top infrastructure priorities at meeting hosted by One Acadiana, a nine-parish chamber of commerce.
Gregg Gothreaux, Lafayette Economic Development Authority president and CEO, said, “You are talking about the most important project we can do in the history of the community, second probably to creating the university, maybe.”
Cassidy, Louisiana freshman senator, joined in the chorus of support for completing the 160-mile highway linking Lafayette to New Orleans during a meeting Friday at the Picard Center. The I-49 project, a new Mississippi bridge and six-laning Interstate 12 are the top infrastructure projects in the state, Cassidy said.
The recent passage of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act provides a six-year authorization of projects, Cassidy said. The longer period allows for projects to be contracted through completion, which saves money, he said.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, soon to be commissioner of admistration, also attended the meeting and said the state has a major obligation to make I-49 happen.
Completing the 5.5-mile stretch of I-49 is expected to cost about $900 million and the entire project tops out at about $3 billion.
Jason El Koubi, One Acadiana president and CEO, said, “I want to emphasize that completing I-49 South is easily the top priority for One Acadiana. We believe that upgrading the current U.S. 90 to interstate standards will greatly improve a vital link, not just for America’s energy corridor, but tie the region to America’s heartland.”
I-49 is eventually to stretch from New Orleans to the the U.S. border with Canada.
“It is within reach,” El Koubi said. “One-hundred of the 160 miles are already complete or under construction.”
Beyond its economic benefit, El Koubi said the interstate will allow safer travel, hurricane evacuation and ease traffic congestion.
Gothreaux said the interstate’s route from Lafayette to New Orleans is adjacent to 24 percent of the state’s population.
Other factors cited by Gothreaux included:
— South Louisiana’s energy corridor is one of the top 10 in the U.S.
— The Lafayette Metropolitan Statistical Area is among the 100th biggest markets in the U.S.
— Completing I-49 would add a billion dollars of gross domestic product to the Lafayette MSA’s present $20 billion.
— 3,762 jobs would be created by completing I-49.
A One Acadiana news release stated, The imperative for the Lafayette Connector is to get it right from the start — to repair and enhance our urban fabric, to leverage neighborhood cohesion and vitality, to remediate environmentally contaminated sites, to provide an engine for investment, to provide an aesthetically compelling gateway to the community, and to inaugurate a new era of Lafayette’s urbanization.”