Local officials and legislators from seven Acadiana parishes pleaded their cases Wednesday to Louisiana highway officials that their long-neglected rural two-lane roads need fixing — now.
Some of those same officials also said it’s time to quit arguing about whether an elevated Interstate 49 South Connector should run through Lafayette. South Louisiana is ready, state Rep. Sam Jones said, to find the money and build it.
“It’s on us. We have to make it happen,” said Jones, of Franklin in St. Mary Parish, through which U.S. 90 as the future I-49 South runs.
About 100 people attended the joint Louisiana Senate-House Transportation Committee meeting Wednesday, held in Lafayette City-Parish Council chambers for the meeting with the Lafayette-based District 3 of Department of Transportation and Development. The public meeting, one of several held across the state, is commonly called the DOTD Road Show.
Legislators and officials from the DOTD District 3’s seven parishes made pleas to prioritize their falling-apart highways, most of them two-lane and rural.
DOTD District 3 covers Acadia, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Mary, St. Martin and Vermilion parishes.
During the hours-long hearing, “deplorable” often was used to describe some of the rural roads.
La. 35 from Branch to Church Point is in “absolutely deplorable condition,” state Sen. Jonathan Perry said. Also deplorable is La. 717 running through Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes, and La. 335 near Kaplan, said Perry, a Republican who lives in Kaplan in Vermilion Parish.
State Rep. Jack Montoucet, a Democrat from Crowley in Acadia Parish, also had complaints about La. 13, a 3-mile section in his district leading to Crowley. To the east, in state Rep. H. Bernard LeBas’ district in St. Landry and Evangeline parishes, La. 13 there is in bad shape too.
“We’re having accidents that are killing people,” he said.
The legislators and parish presidents who followed LeBas made similar pleas to fix roads in their districts. “It’s time y’all got serious about roads in Louisiana,” St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier said.
In Louisiana, legislators for years have scratched their heads at how to repair, replace or even build news roads when billions of dollars were needed but only a fraction of that has been available. This year is no different. DOTD’s estimates there are $12.7 billion in road needs, but it has only $668 million to spend in the 2016-17 fiscal year that starts July 1. A tax on gasoline is dedicated to the state’s Transportation Fund, but millions of dollars from the fund has in the last few years been used to fund State Police operations.
State Sen. Page Cortez, a Republican from Lafayette who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, commanded the gavel at the hearing Wednesday. He said Gov. John Bel Edwards has vowed not to use the transportation money for anything but roads.
There is good news, according to DOTD plans: Late this year or next, crews will begin adding a lane to both the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to the Atchafalaya Basin. The work will cost between $220 million and $280 million, according to DOTD estimates. The first two sections of the project are scheduled for bid in the second half of this year.
Other projects, some of them funded, are planned for U.S. 90 in its transition to I-49 South, such as getting rid of the traffic signals and building interchanges at U.S. 90’s intersections with Verot School Road, Ambassador Caffery Parkway, La. 92 and La. 318 in St. Mary Parish.
But the I-49 South Connector, possibly elevated and costing up to $1 billion, and which could run from Interstate 10 to Kaliste Saloom Road near Lafayette Regional Airport, is not funded. But it has been discussed at myriad public meetings in the last year.
“I think it’s time for us, as legislators, to stop going to meetings about where it will be built,” Jones, the representative from Franklin, said Wednesday.
Newly sworn-in Lafayette City-Parish Mayor Joel Robideaux said I-49 South has never been closer to reality, and that officials should build it “by whatever means needed to get it done.”
Follow Billy Gunn on Twitter, @BillyGunnAcad