Planning and design of the controversial Interstate 49 Lafayette Connector project is about to move into a new phase.

After nearly two years without public meetings, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced in a prepared statement Friday the Community Working Group and Technical Advisory Committee will be combined into a single Advisory Group to allow for input into design features and to help create design guidelines for the Connector.

Planners are restarting the Context Sensitive Solutions process that was suspended in 2015 after residents complained about the design previously decided upon. The project remained dormant from 2003, when a federal Record of Decision was issued, until it was restarted in 2015. Because of citizen complaints, the CSS process was suspended, months of debate over a new design took place and a new design with minor alternatives was agreed upon.

The restart will kick off in March, Bill Oliver, DOTD district engineer administrator in Lafayette, said. A series of workshops involving the Advisory Group will follow in April, he said, and planning will continue through the year with opportunities for public involvement.

Over the past two years, work has continued with traffic and noise models, Oliver said. Planners have designed two options for ramps to get traffic downtown, one at Willow Street or one at Simcoe Street, as well as options for whether Evangeline Thruway between Taft Street and 2nd/3rd streets should remain as is or be reconstructed as a boulevard.

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The public is directed to https://lafayetteconnector.com/ 

The I-49 Lafayette Connector is a proposed six-lane, mostly elevated section of highway through Lafayette that roughly follows Evangeline Thruway from the terminus of I-49 to Lafayette Regional Airport. The cost is estimated at $800 million to $1 billion.

In March of 2017, the I-49 Lafayette Connector Executive Committee, which included DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson and former Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, voted to advance a single proposal, an elevated highway, for further development and design. The decision came after the Community Working Group recommended the Executive Committee advance two plans for additional study, one for an elevated interstate and another for a semi-depressed, partially covered freeway. Wilson, at the time, said it would cost too much to study two plans.

The I-49 Connector has been debated for decades. The plans lay dormant for years following a 2003 Record of Decision by the federal government cleared the Connector for federal funding. When the project was resurrected in 2015, residents and some community leaders objected to the previously approved plan that called for two exits into downtown Lafayette. The process was reset and new designs were debated before the Executive Committee settled on an option with no exits directly into downtown.


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.