Jeremy Alford

Energy corridor concept dead for session

by Jeremy Alford

Legislation that would have brought together the bayou parishes region with Acadiana in an effort to place the conversion of I-49 South on solid asphalt appears to have run out of gas with less than three weeks remaining in the regular session. Members of the Senate Transportation Committee expressed concern last week that the proposed Energy Corridor Commission would have had too much sway over the project and set a precedent for a nonprofit handling responsibilities normally delegated to the state Department of Transportation.

Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, wanted to rename the existing Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission and transform it into a new 15-member commission that would have had the power to tax an eight-parish region, borrow money and sign into contracts with private companies. The boundaries of the proposed political subdivision were to include Iberia, Lafayette, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, and Vermilion parishes.

While Senate Bill 176 would have focused on the continued upgrades to I-49 South, Michot says he intended it to cover other important projects in the region like La. 1. For years, local lawmakers have argued in favor of the I-49 connector; not only for reasons of commerce for shipping, but also as a hurricane evacuation route for residents.

Kam Movassaghi, former state transportation secretary and president of C. H. Fenstermaker and Associates, told lawmakers that Lafayette officials wanted the new commission to lobby and research tolls – like those being used as part of the La. 1 improvement – along the proposed route of I-49 South. The commission would have also been empowered to study and design highway projects as well as bid them out and award jobs.

In a comment that drew scorn from committee members, Movassaghi said the parishes involved chiefly wanted the authority due to the “state’s inability” to deliver transportation projects in an efficient manner.

Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, criticized the legislation for not including legislative oversight and said it’s too much power to hand over to an unelected bunch. “You could do anything you wanted to with this,” Adley said. “You would be out there on your own and you just have got to have oversight. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m sorry.”

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, said the same group could still get together to accomplish their goals under current law. “You can do all of this now,” McPherson told Movassaghi and Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission Chairman Mickey Mangham. “Did y’all really look at this bill?”

Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, added that he wasn’t convinced that the region stretching from Lafourche to Lafayette had special needs. “I think every interstate system in the state is in energy transportation,” Erdey said. While that may be true, Port Fourchon alone, as the nation’s only offshore oil port, influences production and distribution of up to 18 percent of America’s entire oil and gas supply.