Dec. 15, 2016 11:01 AM

The process of settling on a design for the I-49 Connector is leading us to selecting one of two popular designs. Let’s not be hasty in choosing the best path.

On Dec. 12, the Evangeline Thruway Redevelopment Team asked that none of the current concepts for Interstate 49 — either the elevated option or the “cut-and-cover” option — be taken off the table until key questions can be answered.

The ETRT, which is an advisory body to the City-Parish Council, is particularly concerned about the current lack of information regarding the feasibility of the cut-and-cover option, sometimes referred to as the “6 Series,” as well as a lack of clarity between the cut-and-cover and the elevated option, the commonly called “4 Series.”

As a member of the ETRT who made the motion, let me explain the basic issues at play. The ETRT was tasked to come up with ideas on how to mitigate the effect of the I-49 Connector through one of the oldest parts of Lafayette.

As part of that process, we held wellattended public meetings, where we actively engaged the neighborhoods. The cut-and-cover option, or at least some variation of that, was largely the result of that interaction with the community. People liked that the 6 Series presented the potential to maintain connectivity across the corridor while dealing with noise issues and other potentially negative activities that happen underneath elevated freeway structures. Thankfully, DOTD picked up on the idea and presented its thoughts during its own latest round of planning exercises. This ETRT request was prompted after the DOTD team met with the ETRT team Nov. 30, a well-appreciated visit that unfortunately led to more questions than answers.

One key issue is that, in the DOTD perspective, the cut-and-cover would require for Johnston Street to be elevated above the railroad track, causing a disruption to the Freetown-Port Rico Historic District. But that decision is premised on Johnston Street in this area being designed for 40 miles per hour, rather than 25 or 30 miles per hour. At that lower design speed, the disruptive intrusion may not be required. This would require, however, for DOTD to consider thinking about that section of Johnston Street differently, maintaining its capacity for cars, but moving toward a design that was safer for pedestrians.

As the ETRT request for information states: “It is impossible to make a fully-informed, rational decision as a community without a well-grounded estimate of the future costs associated with each concept. Ultimately, the project must be fundable in order to be built, and estimated costs, even at this early stage in the planning process, are a necessary tool to effectively compare the options before us.”

Regrettably, the numbers that have been presented so far make it difficult to make “apples to apples” comparisons between the two concepts. It isn’t clear, for example, whether the cost estimates include costs of environmental remediation, the extent of that remediation, or even if remediation is included in both the Series 4 and the Series 6 estimates. It also isn’t clear whether costs for features like the signature bridge or improvements to the Thruway are or are not included.

These should not be difficult questions for the Lafayette Connector Partners team to answer — the cost estimates, for example, are very likely supported by detailed back-up information.

But while these questions are pending, we shouldn’t — and don’t need to — take one fork of the road or the other. The days or weeks it should take to answer these questions are not too high a price to pay for the benefits of a better informed community. And a better informed community will result in a successful project for everyone.

The former public works director for Lafayette Consolidated Government, Kevin Blanchard is chief operating officer for Southern Lifestyle Development.

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