DOTD says I-49 Connector likely will be interstate; citizens who want alternative should step down _lowres

Advocate file photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Motorists travel along the Northeast Evangeline Thruway, along a small patch of green space between the Thruway and North Magnolia Street, near the Second Street intersection Friday, February 19, 2016, in Lafayette, La.

Members of an I-49 Connector citizens committee who want to discuss alternatives to an interstate through the middle of the city have been asked by the state Department of Transportation and Development to consider stepping down.

In an email sent Tuesday to members of the I-49 Connector Community Working Group, DOTD project manager Toby Picard said the project “must be” a controlled access freeway that meets interstate requirements.

His note comes after some members of the group pushed at a meeting last week to explore a multi-lane boulevard rather than a partially elevated six-lane interstate, citing concerns about a large freeway dividing the city and fouling local traffic and development patterns.

Picard and DOTD consultants dismissed the suggestion during the meeting, questioning whether a boulevard could handle projected traffic in the coming decades and saying federal guidelines would prevent transforming an interstate project into a boulevard project.

Picard’s email to committee members took a harder line.

“After you review this, please let us know by May 15, 2016 if for any reason you cannot constructively continue to fulfill your CSS Group responsibilities within these parameters and should choose to not continue as a CSS Group member,” Picard wrote.

“CSS” stands for Context Sensitive Solutions, a planning term describing an effort to involve the community in crafting a road project that enhances rather the hurts the surrounding neighborhoods.

Planning for the 51/2-mile stretch of I-49 through Lafayette — dubbed the “Connector” — resumed last year after a hiatus of nearly a decade.

DOTD is considering more than a dozen tweaks to a preliminary design for the road, including changes in elevations for different sections and the removal of interchanges in the downtown area. But DOTD’s unwillingness to stray too far from the initial design — or to reconsider a plan dismissed years ago to bypass Lafayette — have rankled some members of the Community Working Group.

“I think it’s foolish,” said CWG member Eddie Cazayoux, a well-known local architect who once headed the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Architecture and who has graduate degrees in urban design and city planning.

Cazayoux has suggested reworking Evangeline Thruway into a modern boulevard and building the interstate around the city, sweeping to the east between Carencro and Broussard but not as far as the so-called Teche Ridge alternative that would push the road farther into St. Martin Parish.

“We should investigate what is the best way to do this, not the best way in the (Evangeline Thruway) corridor but the best way period,” he said.

CWG Member John Arceneaux, one of the main voices advocating for the boulevard concept, said he will not step down from the committee and plans to continue pushing DOTD to consider alternatives beyond a conventional interstate.

“I’m going to try to work within their parameters but still offer my input and opinions on the project,” he said.

Arceneaux said he is hopeful a modern boulevard, which other cities have built in recent years after tearing down elevated highways, will be considered either in the context of the Connector project or as the focus of a new proposal.