LAFAYETTE — Tolls must be considered as an option to pay for completing Interstate 49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans, officials said Friday at a meeting of a task force in charge of developing a strategy to get the road built.
The meeting of the I-49 South Feasibility and Funding Task Force comes after the release last month of a state-funded study that found tolls starting at 18 cents a mile could pay up to half of the more than $3 billion price tag for the project.
The study needs to be revisited to research the effectiveness of tolling only portions of the road, but the general concept has to be explored, said state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, who has been one of the more vocal advocates for I-49 South in recent years.
“We have to consider any funding source to get this done,” Allain said. “… Is this something you want, because it’s not going to fall out of the sky? The fed (federal government) is not going to write a check.”
Still, the general public is surely wary of toll roads in a state that has few, said Mike Michot, a former state senator serving as director of the I-49 South Coalition, a group of business leaders, public officials and economic development groups.
“We still have a lot to do to sell the public on this concept,” Michot said.
The state Department of Transportation and Development has completed several overpasses, service roads and other projects to bring portions of U.S. 90 up to interstate standards between Lafayette and New Orleans, but high-dollar hurdles remain, such as the estimated $700 million elevated “I-49 Connector” through Lafayette.
Allain said he envisions using tolls only on sections of I-49 South where the most work is needed rather than on stretches either already up to interstate standards or in need of little work to bring them there.
He also said any toll revenue should be legally restricted to the I-49 project.
“People need to believe they are getting what they pay for,” he said.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who attended Friday’s meeting, said he is open to tolling for new projects but not on roadways that already have been built.
Even if federal funding flowed to the project, it probably still would not be enough for all the work that is needed, said Vitter, who is running for governor in 2015.
“Best case, we still need other pieces of the puzzle,” he said.