The $800 billion economic stimulus package being developed by President-elect Barack Obama, expected to fund a raft of major infrastructure projects throughout the country, won’t be solving any of Acadiana’s major road and drainage issues. The Obama administration has stipulated that all projects funded through the stimulus package must be “shovel ready”, meaning they are ready to go out for bid by summer. Many of the big ticket items on Acadiana’s infrastructure wish list, including much of the I-49 connector, a parish loop and Ambassador Caffery North, can’t meet that requirement.
Overall, the state just submitted a list of 30 ready-to-go projects, totalling $1.314 billion to the Federal Highway Administration for funding throught the stimulus package (the state is realistically only expecting to get about $400 million). Of those, only two of the projects are in Acadiana. One is a maintenance project, the resurfacing of I-49 from the Lafayette and St. Landry Parish line up to LA 10. The other is a new interchange at LA 85 and U.S. Hwy. 90 near Jeanerette. In a story in today’s Advocate about local legislators and business leaders push to complete I-49 South — estimated to cost $5 billion — MidSouth Bank President Rusty Cloutier sounds off on not being more prepared for the fed’s stimulus package. “It’s just ridiculous that we are here today and have federal funds and can’t take advantage,” he said. I-49 South has been in the works for more than 20 years. Bill Fontenot, who oversees Acadiana area projects for the state, says that for many large-scale projects in Acadiana that have been on the books for several years — even those that have obtained the necessary right of ways and environmental clearance granted — just getting final design plans can take several months. “The 180-day timeline on getting these projects ready to bid is the challenge,” he says.