ACA.i49.01.111921

A "Future Corridor for I-49" sign is pictured at the intersection of NE Evangeline Thruway and Louisiana Avenue Monday, November 23, 2015, in Lafayette, La.

Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory, at his first Interstate 49 Lafayette Connector executive committee meeting Thursday, weighed in on the decades-long planning process to extend the interstate through the city of Lafayette

It was the first meeting of the executive committee since Guillory took office in January 2020. The executive committee will make recomendations to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

"When can we start turning dirt?" Guillory asked after an update by state highway officials and contractors.

I-49 Lafayette Connector final plan may be ready in 2021

When he took office, Guillory said, he was told construction would begin in 2021.

Environmental clearance is expected by around March 2023, Tim Nickel of the DOTD, which oversees the project, said. The planning has taken longer than anticipated in part because of changes to the alignment.

Lafayette Consolidated Government, Guillory said, has assets and engineers who can assist.

"There's got to be a way to expedite it," he said.

I-49 Lafayette Connector moves into next phase of planning

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Part of the delay, DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson of Lafayette said, is the department is engaging with residents according to best practices "so we can get it right. We're in a very good place on this project."

The I-49 Lafayette Connector is a proposed 5.5-mile extension of I-49 from its terminus at Interstate 10 to Lafayette Regional Airport. Much of the freeway will be elevated. With an estimated price tag of about $1 billion, the Connector will be built in sections.

The controversial project, discussed for decades, proceeded to a federal Record of Decision in 2003, but the plan was shelved because there wasn't any money to build it. The plan was dusted off in 2015, but residents objected to it, leading state officials to restart the planning process.

I-49 Lafayette Connector committee resumes work with online meeting

More than 85 meetings have been held since 2015, Derek Chisholm, a contractor on the project, said.

There has been "extraordinary outreach" on this project compared with others, Wilson said.

Kim Goodell of the Watermark Alliance criticized officials for not discussing environmental impacts of the project, particularly possible contamination of the Chicot Aquifer, a source of drinking water, and ground contamination near downtown Lafayette from a former rail yard. Testing, she said, suggests contamination in the rail yard is worse than originally thought and contamination may have reached the aquifer. 

Nickel said the DOTD is working with state environmental officials on phase 2 of testing.

A lawsuit filed in 2016 is pending over contamination at the rail yard.


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.