Our Views: Lafayette connector should work for drivers and for community

In terms of mileage, Interstate 49 between Lafayette and New Orleans is one of the most complete of incomplete projects.

More than 100 miles of the 160-mile highway, a goal of state planners and business leaders for decades, already is either up to federal interstate standards or under construction to meet them.

Unfortunately, in both the inner city of Lafayette and the outskirts of metropolitan New Orleans, there are very large gaps that will require big sums of money to connect the highway entirely. That’s going to take some doing, financially.

And in the special session of the Legislature, dealing with budget issues, a new governor and key lawmakers were not interested in adding the problems of highway and bridge finance to their budget problems already on the table. Any future funding source for I-49, or for that matter other big projects, is still hazy. Those other projects include such big-ticket items as a new bridge over the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge or replacing the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles.

The current budget may not be in place for them, but the long planning process takes years, just as does construction, if and when we get that far. The good news is that a great deal of discussion is going on about the interstate improvements in Lafayette, the “buckle” of the belt connecting I-49 north to Shreveport and beyond with the southern segments.

The “Lafayette Connector” has been on the map for a long time, but during those years there have been meaningful advances in ways to design and build roads. The fear of some people turning out for public meetings on the connector is that an elevated highway would be bulldozed through the city, exacerbating tensions between poorer and better-off neighborhoods.

We applaud the state planners for extending the period to analyze the effects of the connector, even before detailed planning begins on its design. Like the business leaders of One Acadiana, we hope and expect that this project’s conception “presents opportunities for community development and urban revitalization that would not otherwise receive this level of attention or investment.”

To make that happen requires a significant commitment from state planners, and it should be appreciated in the community. Design of the project, though, remains the fundamental issue, and no amount of public hearings and community consultations will make up for a project that does in fact rupture the city’s neighborhoods more than necessary to make the project work.

We share a view of what we believe the vast majority of Lafayette and Acadiana residents agree on, that a complete I-49 is going to be of great value for transportation and thus for the area economy. It’s a significant challenge to build a highway through a city, but over the past few decades America has learned a great deal about how to do that better.

We can put those lessons to work in Lafayette to make this vital connection work for drivers and for the community it serves.

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