In the community discussion around the I-49 Lafayette Connector, something that receives too little attention is the project’s substantial role in protecting our industry base and building a foundation for diversified economic growth in other sectors. Especially amid the current economic downturn, the Connector should be viewed as a central component of our area’s economic development strategy, supported by everyone who cares about a strong economic future for Lafayette and Acadiana.
First, high-quality infrastructure is one of the most important factors for economic growth and competitiveness. Site selection consultants — the professionals who guide location decisions for many businesses looking to expand — consistently rank highway accessibility as a top site selection factor for business investment and job creation.
The completion of the Connector and the rest of I-49 South — our state’s primary intermodal freight corridor linking ports and airports — will help attract and retain jobs, including those in sectors that One Acadiana and our partners are actively cultivating such as advanced manufacturing, food and beverage processing, and marine and heavy industries. Furthermore, with our friends in the energy industry under pressure to increase operating efficiencies, this project will strengthen “America’s Energy Corridor” and help solidify the industry’s long-term presence in South Louisiana. Depending on how long this downturn lasts, the roughly $1 billion spent constructing the Connector will generate many jobs that could help offset losses in the oilfield, or significantly bolster the industry’s recovery.
Second, a well-designed Connector, informed by the needs and aspirations of the community, has the potential to transform the Evangeline Thruway Corridor and improve conditions in Lafayette’s urban core and northside neighborhoods. Leveraging this $1 billion investment with new private investment offers unparalleled opportunities to reconnect the neighborhoods divided by the Evangeline Thruway; to resurrect blighted properties and develop community assets; to reduce traffic congestion while building safe and walkable urban neighborhoods; to address unresolved environmental issues; to create a stunning, new gateway worthy of our vibrant culture; and to expand access for residents and businesses alike to jobs, health care, education, and economic opportunities. A revitalized urban core will dramatically improve our area’s prospects for economic diversification in sectors such as corporate and regional support offices, software development, informatics, and other high-value services.
The community-based planning and design process for the Connector — which is still ongoing with additional opportunities for community input and refinement — has produced multiple compelling options for dramatically improving our area’s transportation infrastructure and inaugurating a new era of urban revitalization. And, despite some of the headlines, Lafayette gets it: More than 80 percent of frequent voters in Lafayette Parish believe completing I-49 South through Lafayette is important based on recent poll results. While there is a small but vocal group intent on derailing this project, it’s clear that an overwhelming majority of engaged community members understand its importance and potential.
Moreover, it’s clear that we can finish the job after decades of fits and starts. Let’s seize this opportunity and secure the economic future we desire.
Jason El Koubi is president and CEO of One Acadiana, a nine-parish economic development organization.