Mais Oui

I-49 at the Crossroads Lessons learned from the LUS Fiber fight and Lafayette’s airport tax are germane to the Connector.

by Cherry Fisher May

Similarities are emerging between the I-49 project, the LUS Fiber initiative and the recent 'one penny, one year, one project' sales tax for Lafayette Regional Airport.

Similarities are emerging between the I-49 project, the LUS Fiber initiative and the recent “one penny, one year, one project” sales tax for Lafayette Regional Airport.

The LUS Fiber project drew from the deep tradition of Lafayette’s wildcatter mentality, going back to the early 20th century when utility providers deemed our city too insignificant to merit electrical service. We responded by starting our own electric company and changed history.

A century later we leveraged that electrical infrastructure to build a fiber network that is the envy of cities everywhere. It was a tough fight that succeeded because it brought together previously disparate segments of our community toward a common goal. The chamber crowd wanted fiber to stimulate 21st century business development. Others in the city saw the opportunity to bridge the digital divide, equalizing access to the information superhighway to improve education and quality of life in the city’s urban core.

That is where I-49 and the LUS Fiber fight converge. Lafayette’s infrastructure divide is real, and the Connector done right could fix it. But the old model doesn’t work in urban environments, and longtime project advocates need to accept that. Even more to the point, sources at the federal level — the wellspring for Connector funding — tell us there is scant interest in building elevated highways anymore. Many residents in the adjacent neighborhoods don’t want one either. The obvious compromise is the Six Series, designed so that I-49 is semi-submerged beneath a berm that allows downtown to reconnect with north Lafayette via pathways, roads, roundabouts and a boulevard.

View the refinement concepts here.

There are questions about hydrology. Would it drain naturally or require supplemental pumps? We need to answer that. Concerns about storm evacuation are mitigated by a design that includes a parallel grand boulevard on top of I-49 that would double contraflow capacity in most hurricane scenarios and provide a backup in high water storms.

There are assumptions about cost and funding. That is where the Connector analysis resembles not only the LUS Fiber story but also the recent successful airport tax. Doesn’t Lafayette deserve the same cut-and-cover treatment as other cities like Dallas, Reno, Boston and Columbus, Ohio? And if there is some gap between what the federal government will pay (as yet unknown, by the way), shouldn’t we as a community decide whether we want to make up the difference? We just approved a temporary tax for a facility that less than 10 percent of our citizens use but voted for. We should demand adequate information to decide whether additional incremental investment in I-49 — which will impact at least 70 percent of the parish — is worth it, done right.

The Six Series deserves a complete and thorough analysis. Is it feasible? The truth is that nobody knows yet. The unspoken truth is that unless we fully study its potential, the entire project is likely doomed.