Even though it’s been about a year since the last public meeting on the Interstate 49 Connector in Lafayette, the project isn’t dead, or even dormant.
Louisiana Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson told The Acadiana Advocate on Monday things are happening to move the 5-mile section of interstate toward the federal Record of Decision needed to secure funding and start construction.
The ideas and plans presented at public hearings over the past two years are being worked on, he said, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is drawing up a contract extension for the consultants working on the project.
The extension is needed because the project was reset two years ago after residents objected to proceeding with plans that were finalized in 2003 and sat dormant for seven years.
It cost extra money and delayed the project two years, but Wilson said he’s happy with the changes.
“If we had just build what we agreed to 20 years ago, people would have been horribly unhappy,” he said.
The revised consultant contract should be signed in March or April, Wilson said, at which time the next steps can begin in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study and Context Sensitive Solutions process.
A request by residents to turn a section of Evangeline Thruway into a grand boulevard is still being analyzed. The connector will roughly follow the existing path of Evangeline Thruway except between 14th Street and 2nd Street. Some residents and city officials want to convert part of that stretch of Thruway into a boulevard with tree-lined medians and amenities designed to encourage safe pedestrian traffic.
The idea is part of a plan adopted in 2018 by the Evangeline Thruway Redevelopment Team, which grew out of suggestions by residents in and around the thruway, said Kevin Blanchard, an ETRT member.
“It’s a section of road separated from the mainline (of the Connector) that doesn’t need to be an ordinary highway,” Blanchard said. “We can make it a boulevard that has low design speed, is pedestrian friendly, encourages development by providing street parking, all the things that a high-traffic urban road should do."
Wilson expects a federal Record of Decision on the I-49 Lafayette Connector and final document by 2021.
The cost to build the 5-mile connector between Lafayette Regional Airport and the existing terminus of I-49 at Interstate 10 is expected to be about $800 million.
Wilson has said the connector won’t be funded or built all at one time, rather in sections that can be used before the entire project is finished.
The Record of Decision will identify stand-alone segments and their cost.
“When we have the Record of Decision it will tell us how much each piece will cost,” Wilson said. “Our task then is to identify funding to build the pieces in a sensible sequence.”
That’s how 30 miles of I-49 North were built, Wilson said.
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