Dec. 22, 2016 04:52 PM

We should all commend The Daily Advertiser for its Dec. 21 editorial, “A failure to communicate,” demanding better, more meaningful public participation in the planning process for the Interstate 49 Connector.

As a former journalist, I believe community newspapers are often most valuable when they tell us the uncomfortable truths we need to hear. And the truth is we could all do better.

This is the biggest transportation project in the history of our city and region. Our community institutions and leaders have been working for decades to get us here, and they should be commended.

But despite the best efforts of most involved, the planning meetings for this project have devolved into the same dozen or so volunteers watching power point slides. Open houses for the public are sparsely attended. Many questions about funding and design remain unanswered. This is a problem.

The 5.5-mile section of I-49 that will go through the city of Lafayette will pass through some of the oldest sections of town, historic African-American neighborhoods, and our downtown. That is a difficult task to do well. And it will be nearly impossible without a robust public discussion that leads to a deep understanding of the nuances of this project and its impacts and benefits on the surrounding neighborhoods.

But should we worry? I don’t. Lafayette is an exceptional place, full of bright, well-meaning people who truly care for their neighbor. And our culture is better equipped than most to deal with thorny issues; we aren’t afraid of a good argument. My family is probably like yours — we like a good knock-down, drag-out argument where we bare it all, then follow it with long hugs and a great meal.

Like a family, our parish needs to come together around this project. We have different perspectives and priorities. But as former Councilman Louis Benjamin was fond of saying, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Think of the long debate over LUS Fiber. We weren’t all on the same page then. But our community dove feet first into more than a year-long, full-throated debate on the pros and cons. We argued, we disagreed, but in the end we built a community consensus and moved forward.

I have confidence that this ship will be righted. This project is too important not to. I have confidence that — buoyed by an open, honest, transparent process, where sharing information, ideas, and opinions is not just encouraged but actively cultivated by our community leaders, not just the project managers — this project will be a success.

That will take work. It will require that tough questions be answered and tough answers be accepted. And it will require for all of us to recognize our own accountability to ensure that all our family, even those with whom we disagree, have a seat at the table. Thank you to The Advertiser for getting that started.

Kevin Blanchard is chief operating officer for Southern Lifestyle Development.

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