More than $10 million earmarked for several Lafayette road and transportation projects, including nearly $7 million to redevelop Main Street in downtown, may be transferred to unrelated projects because they’ve been declared dormant after at least a year of inactivity.
The potential loss of project funding and status took some by surprise, including the Downtown Development Authority, which secured $6.8 million for the Main Street redevelopment project several years ago.
The DDA wants to keep the $6.8 million, and has been working toward that end with the Acadiana Planning Commission and regional planners. But Mayor-President Joel Robideaux wants to spend the money elsewhere, on his own priorities.
Downtown Development Authority Director Chairman Miles Matt said in a Jan. 16 letter that the Acadiana Planning Commission’s director of transportation, Melanie Bordelon, had agreed to give the DDA more time to show its efforts and interest in keeping the Main Street redevelopment project funded under the Transportation Improvement Program.
But Robideaux, in a letter to Bordelon dated just a day earlier, had asked to eliminate all funding for the Main Street project so it could be spent elsewhere, including $3.8 million on the University Avenue Corridor redevelopment plan that has been a Robideaux priority.
The request to transfer $10 million, some of it for use on new projects, without consulting the Lafayette City-Parish Council didn’t sit well with Councilman Bruce Conque, who is chairman of the technical policy committee of the Acadiana Planning Organization.
Conque said he intends to ask the council to adopt a resolution asking that action on Robideaux’s requests be delayed until the council evaluates the projects. The resolution also asks that Robideaux communicate with the council on all future funding matters related to projects under the Transportation Improvement Program.
Robideaux did not return a request for comment on this story.
Monique Boulet, chief executive officer of the Acadiana Planning Commission, said Friday it is up to Lafayette Consolidated Government to determine the line of communication between the mayor-president and council and how LCG priorities are set.
The money is federal money assigned to metropolitan planning organizations — urbanized areas — across the country based on population, according to Chris Cole, an engineer with the Acadiana Planning Commission.
Some projects sit without progress for various reasons, including a change of priorities that comes as new administrations take office.
Representatives of various cities and parishes on the metropolitan planning organization, as well as staff, want to see the money spent, Cole said, if not on the original project, then on something else.
As a result, the MPO came up with a policy in September that states a project that has gone without activity for a year or more can be declared dormant.
“The entities themselves sometimes do not want the project and didn’t have a mechanism to say they want to do another project,” Cole said.
Already, $1 million has been taken from an Interstate 49 Corridor Plan at Robideaux’s request and assigned to build a roundabout at Girard Park Drive and Hospital Drive.
Boulet said the $1 million was set aside before LCG received a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and is no longer needed.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is expected to go out for bids on the roundabout soon and construction could begin this year, Cole said.
Dormant projects in Lafayette Parish that could lose funding include:
- Main Street redevelopment, $6.8 million
- Bertrand Drive streetscape, $2 million
- I-49 Corridor Plan, $1 million
- Verot School Road widening (La 82 to La 3073) environmental assessment, $400,000
- University Avenue widening (West Pont des Mouton to I-49) environmental assessment, $400,000
- West Congress Street corridor study (downtown), $200,000
Even though the Downtown Development Authority requested money for the Main Street redevelopment project, Lafayette Consolidated Government is the government agency in charge of the project, so LCG can decide whether the project advances or not.
Here’s what Robideaux wants to do with the $6.8 million from the Main Street redevelopment project:
- Transfer $3.85 million to the University Avenue Corridor project from Interstate 10 to Cameron Street. (New project)
- Transfer $1.5 million to the Lafayette Adaptive Signal System project. (Existing project)
- Transfer $1 million to move and replace street lights on Johnston Street from Ambassador Caffery Parkway south in conjunction with a state Department of Transportation and Development project to install J-turns on Johnston Street/U.S. 167. (New project)
- Transfer $500,000 to a corridor study on Coolidge Street from South College Road to East St. Mary Boulevard. (New project)
Other transfers on Robideaux’s list include:
- Transfer $1 million from I-49 Connector Corridor Plan to roundabout at Girard Park Drive/Hospital Drive.
- Transfer $400,000 from Verot School Road environmental study to Kaliste Saloom Road/West Pinhook Road bypass project. (New project)
- Transfer $177,295 from Pierce at West Congress Street roundabout to an intercity connector transit project (New project)
- Transfer $200,000 from the West Congress Street study to an intercity connector transit project. (New project)
Robideaux, in his Jan. 15 letter, also asks for two extensions. One is for the Bertrand Drive Streetscape project from Johnston to La. 3025, because the project is being engineered and is waiting resolution of a sewage line issue.
The second extension would be for South College Road sidewalks. Cost estimates, he wrote, are underway.
Before the transfer requests are finalized, they must go through a project evaluation subcommittee, which may meet in April, Cole said. Then the requests go to the technical policy committee which has the final word, he said. The TPC meeting is open to the public, which is allowed to comment.