Growing numbers of people in Lafayette believe an “elevated interstate” through the heart of downtown is not the best way to complete I-49 South to New Orleans. Taxpayers are increasingly eying an eastern route along the Teche Ridge that will require less-expensive construction, reduce mitigation costs and remove dangerous through traffic from the downtown zone.
Turning the page on a downtown I-49 Connector opens the book to tremendous possibilities for a re-envisioned Evangeline Thruway to serve as the gateway our city deserves. A Houma engineering firm suggests that construction costs for the Teche Ridge route are about half that for the connector. Lafayette could have two for one: (1) the existing thruway revamped as a local-traffic-only, central-city boulevard, allowing space for pedestrian and bike paths, landscaping and parking and injecting new vigor into businesses and neighborhoods in the urban core and (2) an interstate grade bypass route for hurricane evacuation in times of dire need. And all this would come without the scar of an elevated interstate through the old heart of our city.
Supporters of the I-49 Connector don’t talk much about the costs of mitigating the effects of an outdated raised urban freeway that will divide our community even further, but the costs will be huge. They also don’t mention that a large portion of those costs will fall to local taxpayers. Instead of the double burden of building the I-49 Connector downtown — raising revenue to create costly problems and then paying again to mitigate — we can simply raise revenue to improve an Evangeline Thruway that will be more lightly traveled when the highway passes by to the east. It’s a win-win choice that makes economic sense.
Connecting I-49 from Shreveport to New Orleans is a reasonable goal. Treating as sacrosanct a 20-year-old document dividing the heart of downtown Lafayette neighborhoods is unaffordable and unreasonable. The project may cost a billion dollars and will forever leave a compromised situation for communities on all sides of the corridor. Local effects of the I-49 Connector include takings of private property, neighborhood disruption, noise pollution, vibration impacts, loss of our night skies and disruption of environmental waste sites that threaten the Chicot aquifer and our precious drinking water.
New Orleans, Baton Rouge and communities across this nation now regret the quality-of-life degradation brought on by 1970s-style urban freeways. We mustn’t settle for a costly worst-of-both-worlds situation.
We have a best-of-both-worlds solution at the turn of a page — an interstate connector outside of our city to serve as primary hurricane evacuation and carry heavy through-traffic and the Evangeline Thruway slowed, narrowed and restored as a thriving central boulevard and gateway for our city. Lafayette won’t settle for less.
Sally O. Donlon