LAFAYETTE — A study on whether tolls could fund the construction of Interstate 49 through Lafayette is expected to be complete by August, setting the stage for a decision on whether the toll proposal should be pursued or dropped.
The Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission floated the idea last year of using tolls to build an elevated stretch of I-49 through Lafayette and south toward Iberia Parish along the path of U.S. 90.
The interstate upgrade, which at last estimate would cost at least $700 million, has been on the drawing board for years but has not moved forward for want of funding.
The Expressway Commission is paying for a study by a traffic consulting firm to determine if enough vehicles would use the planned interstate to generate sufficient toll revenue to pay for its construction.
The results are expected by August, the commission learned at a Tuesday meeting.
If the study shows that tolls could support the I-49 project, the commission will be faced with a decision whether to push forward with the toll idea or not, Expressway Commission member Elaine Abell said.
The possibility of opposition to tolls is not lost on the commission, but Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce President Rob Guidry, also a commission member, said he thinks the public is more receptive to the idea of tolls than in the past if there is no other way to pay for high-dollar road priorities.
“I am getting more positive reactions than ever,” Guidry said.
Abell said that completing I-49 through Lafayette is critical to the area’s economic growth and will help manage traffic congestion as more people commute between Lafayette and the surrounding communities.
“I think that the people of Acadiana can think outside the box, and maybe we can set an example for the rest of the state,” Abell said.
There has been no discussion on what the toll rate might be, but the fee would apply only to the interstate portion, not the service or frontage roads that could still be used freely for local traffic.
If the commission opts to pursue the toll road concept, the next step would be to petition the state to give the commission control of the stretch of U.S. 90 that would be converted to an interstate, Abell said.
The commission, which was created by the Legislature in 2003, already has the authority to collect tolls and to oversee road construction projects.
LMEC’s focus was originally on a traffic loop around Lafayette.
The loop is still in the planning stages, but the commission has also taken on the I-49 project, which is primed for construction should funds become available.
The possibility of the state or federal government paying to complete I-49 through Lafayette is slim, said Kam Movassaghi, president of the Lafayette engineering firm Fenstermaker and a former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
Movassaghi, who spoke to commissioners Tuesday, said the state is seeing declining gasoline tax revenues and sharp drops in federal transportation dollars.
“We in the state of Louisiana are facing a major crisis in regards to our transportation needs,” he said.
But he said the idea of tolls is still receiving a lackluster reception from elected officials.