As expected, plans to partially bury the Connector or remove two of its interior interchanges to repair the urban grid beneath it will move through to the next round of design evaluations as the state’s engineering team looks to nail down a final design. Both concepts present dramatic changes to the Connector’s decade-old preliminary design, following months of often tense community workshops, meetings and jockeying between state and city-led design teams.
Grouped into two series of several ideas each, the concepts survived thanks to high marks by the Community Work Group and Technical Advisory Committee, two citizen-staffed planning committees created by the state’s community design process, implemented to curry public consensus.
Variations of the urban re-grid concept, designated the 4 Series, received the highest scores by both committees.
The move to the next phase will be made official pending approval from the project's committee, expected to come through Friday.
In remarks to the Community Work Group, Steve Wallace of Stantec, the state’s prime contractor on the project, briefly raised the specter of cost in the next phase of concept evaluations. Along with “high level” technical studies of the remaining concepts — at present 11 in all between the semi-depressed interstate concept and the urban grid repair concept — Wallace said his team will begin to “cost out” required budgets to build the concepts, and will compare the price tags with that of the preliminary design.
The much maligned preliminary design, an extraction from the Connector’s environmental documents, graduated into the next design phase along with the modified concepts, as a baseline comparison tool for the process going forward.
The state has not proposed an official budget for the project, although the state transportation plan currently allots $750 million for the 5.5 mile section of I-49 South through Lafayette. The state has some $4.8 billion in identified top priority megaprojects.
The design team will stitch together a locally-preferred design out of features identified in the 11 design concepts and 23 spot improvements, which the state team calls “potential design modifications” or PDMs.
‘“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next 45 to 60 days,” Wallace said.
Moving forward, the permutation of design ideas will draw from a generalized pool, rather than 11 discrete ideas, enabling planners to cherry pick features which best address the project’s environmental commitments and receive the most community support.
Among those concepts will be features included in a buried interstate concept produced by the city’s Evangeline Corridor Initiative after a series of neighborhood workshops held in May. The idea piggy-backed on one of the buried interstate concepts — also called a "cut and cover" concept — produced by the state, and suggests an eastward shift away from the railroad tracks for a short bend of the Connector’s alignment. Support for the idea collided with territorial disputes between LCG and DOTD just as the state’s team was attempting to finalize the first round of design evaluations, originally set to be completed at the beginning of the summer. Those ECI modifications can be considered, in summary or in part, as tack-on features in the upcoming design phase.
A technical memo will be produced at the end of the upcoming phase, further eliminating remaining concepts on the road to a final design on the basis of cost and technical feasibility. Wallace said his team hopes to arrive at a final, locally preferred design by the end of the year. The project's original schedule was previously extended by six months at the start of the year.
Earlier this summer, state transportation officials, in consultation with the Federal Highway Administration, elected to reopen environmental documents after publicly avoiding changes to the project which they said would put the project at odds with the 2003 Record of Decision. A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will be drafted once a final design is identified, ultimately leading to an updated Record of Decision which could change, remove or add environmental commitments. The final design produced by the current process will be included for review in the SEIS, along with the 19 basic concepts produced since design activities resumed on the Connector last fall.
Stantec and its team of consultants are contracted for work on the Connector’s design and environmental studies process through 2018.