June 15, 2016 11:56 AM

After a bumpy start, the process has worked to help our community envision how I-49 could be done right.


It took more than 20 years to get the Camellia Bridge and boulevard through myriad studies and neighborhood protests to completion. Had it been built when first proposed in 1981, it would likely have developed into another Johnston Street. But our community evolved as the process worked.

Today that thoroughfare is a Lafayette landmark because we did it right.

The I-49 Connector is on a similar path, and that’s a good thing, too. It will likely be the largest infrastructure investment in Lafayette history and those of us on the Community Working Group are studying it with the respect it deserves. I entered the process a skeptic willing to listen. I’ve emerged a supporter of 6-F (a partial cut and cover solution with I-49 submerged under a grand boulevard) and some version of the 4 Series (an elevated signature bridge designed for minimal impact and restored connectivity in adjacent neighborhoods).

Any of the proposed designs would meet the essential objectives of the project — facilitating hurricane evacuation and transportation on Louisiana’s Energy Corridor — however, we’ve been asked to weigh in on much more. The Connector seems to me the fastest way of mitigating pollution in the abandoned railroad yard on the Connector’s path. That has prevented development for decades, and although settled in court long ago, no progress has been made toward cleanup. Federal requirements are clear: Connector construction requires contaminated soils in its path be remediated, the Chicot Aquifer protected and former polluted sites be rehabilitated.

Although no longer viable, some still advocate for The Teche Ridge (or similar route), a position puzzling to me for its promotion of urban sprawl and impact on some of South Louisiana’s most beautiful natural landscape. The city would also lose the I-49 budget to other jurisdictions with zero chance of ever mustering the monies to fix the The Evangeline Thruway and adjacent neighborhoods.

The rehabilitation of our urban core should be a top priority for all of us. This is an opportunity to restore community connectivity and infuse badly needed infrastructure improvements into an area of our city neglected for too long. The process helped us see what’s possible.

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