The community design process is slowly approaching connector I-49 • The current

Roundabouts or traffic lights? These are among the final choices for a revised I-49 connector design.

Over the past 18 months, community design meetings have proceeded effectively and virtually to update an updated concept for the decades-old interstate urban project. During this phase of the project, the main contours of the elevated highway took shape.

Starting Monday, project planners will hold several neighborhood meetings at the Lafayette Science Museum, culminating in an open house that will showcase the components of the highway.

View a calendar of upcoming Connector meetings

While the project’s footprint remains largely the same – 5.5 miles end-to-end, with roughly two miles of elevated highway passing through historic Black Quarters along the Evangeline Thruway – changes substantial emerged as a result of the community design process that began five years ago. The DOTD eliminated a major interchange on Second Street that would have swallowed up 32 acres near downtown. A concept to save the northbound branch of the Thruway as a boulevard, which came from the city’s Evangeline Thruway redevelopment team, is among the two remaining concepts. For the most part, the two “alternatives” are the same except for how they handle traffic. One imagines a series of roundabouts, the other a flow of traffic lights.

“I think we have a superior design compared to the original, traffic, flow, operations and aesthetics,” says Tim Nickel, DOTD project manager. “People were pushing and pulling, and we got something out of it, and I think the community got something out of it and it shows in this project. We do not eliminate all impacts. We have significantly mitigated the impacts and we have a better product for all parties involved. ”

Drag the slider to compare the planes of part of the connector path.

More or less extinct is the dream of a signature bridge promoted by project promoters, notably One Acadiana, when the connector was relaunched in 2015. The DOTD never committed to funding ambition, but its appeal is remained a possibility understood as the sometimes controversial design process of concepts sorted primarily on the basis of a design approved by the federal government in 2003.

DOTD will spend up to $ 12 million (1%) of the planned project cost of $ 1.2 billion on “signature” embellishments of key sections of the elevated mainline, which will reach 22 feet in height.

The state could host a signature bridge if Lafayette funds it, Nickel says. He defends the state’s flexibility, noting that the core elements coded in the remaining designs go beyond what was required in the 2003 decision record signed by the Federal Highway Administration.

“There are other benefits that we added to that. Segmented concrete beams, beautiful aesthetic type beams, ”Nickel said, in addition to the 1% funding commitment to pay for signature elements.

What LCG will pay remains an open question, and the key for project skeptics. Although presented as a transformative project for Lafayette and the besieged neighborhoods that the highway will cross, the Connector is above all a transport project. The ongoing contextual solutions process – deployed atypically on an interstate project in this case – has revealed ideas for activating the space under the highway, sketching images of farmers’ markets, lighted parking lots, parks and more. Green spaces.

While DOTD may pay for bike lanes, sidewalks, lighting, and other improvements on the highway itself, the quality of life around it will be LCG’s responsibility.

For some, this has raised the stakes of the remaining uncertainty. Without knowing what LCG will undertake to finance, the neighborhoods have made a cautious commitment.

“It’s a transport project. It’s going to move forward whether the community is behind it or not, ”says Tina Bingham, who represents the McComb-Veazey neighborhood on the project’s community design group. Bingham says his neighbors are worried not only about the imposition of a “concrete wall” but also the possibility of gentrification, losing even more control over their neighborhoods.

“The question for me… is what’s going on under this structure, not just the pretty painting,” Bingham says. “Who will lead the development under this structure? ”

The Guillory administration did not respond to a request for comment, although the mayor-president made it clear in 2020 that he sees the connector as a priority that should not be “unnecessarily” delayed. The project’s executive committee will meet before the end of the year, says Nickel. This will be the first outfit since Guillory took office in 2020.

Fully aware of the destructive legacy of the urban highway projects, black leaders who have continued to support the project still see it as the best chance for a significant investment in the region.

Tina Bingham showing McComb-Veazey Community House in 2019

The restored thoroughfare provides a buffer to the McComb neighborhood, Bingham says. The Thruway itself has replaced Clay Street, once a shopping street in historic Black. Community centers like the Sam’s Star Club, a hotspot on the Chitlin circuit, fell into disuse in the decades following the arrival of the Thruway in the 1960s.

“We have the chance to experience construction, which brings jobs, opportunities, growth. It’s the crystal ball I’m looking at, ”said State Senator Gerald Boudreaux, an ally of Governor John Bel Edwards and McComb’s native son. “The alternative is people to avoid the area, crime remains high, all of that negative stuff.”

After two decades, the project becomes more real. Critics scoffed that it would never be funded. Money remains a hurdle, but Covid relief dollars have provided a boon. Nickel says $ 125 million is in reserve. If a federal infrastructure bill passes, it could free up more dollars for the state’s priority projects list, which the connector has been on since the 1990s.

Meanwhile, the state has invested $ 47 million in the project, including $ 15 million for the purchase of a right of way.

The shovels may not be hitting the ground anytime soon, but the window of community engagement is closing.

“There has to be some ownership of the project,” Bingham says, “or it will be what we were all afraid of: the government coming in here and saying this is the highway, aren’t you happy? ”

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Abdul J. Gaspar

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