I-49 Coalition seeks paying members

PATTERSON, La. — The I-49 South Coalition took a first step toward recruiting paying members for the push to complete I-49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans.

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, hosted a coalition stakeholders meeting in Patterson. “This is the initial meeting where we put the coalition together,” Allain said.

A stakeholder’s meeting was also held March 12 in Houma.

“Our region’s marketability will only enhance when I-49 calls south Louisiana home. Close proximity to an interstate is the main criteria for many companies when looking at potential location sites,” Allain said.

The estimated cost to complete the project is $4.5 billion.

Money is competitive and scarce with the current fiscal situations in Baton Rouge and Washington “to put it mildly,” which is why an organization solely dedicated to completing I-49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans is needed, Allain said.

The organizational meeting for the coalition was held on Jan. 29 in Patterson to gain support for the forming of the coalition. The coalition has received commitments from people and organizations from 23 parishes extending from Lake Charles to the River Parishes, Allain said.

State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, also discussed some of the environmental regulations that would have to be addressed to complete the project. He has asked people with the Department of Transportation and Development and they have agreed to set up a meeting in Patterson to discuss the environmental work that needs to be done, Jones said.

The I-49 South Coalition should follow the example that those pushing to complete I-49 North showed, Jones said.

“Our work now, from my perspective, needs to be between the Wax Lake Outlet and the bridge over the Atchafalaya River,” Jones said.

Allain said the coalition has verbal commitments from about 50 potential members so far, and the coalition should be able to be funded within the next 45 days.

There are four critical areas along the future I-49 corridor that are still “far from completion” to be able to finish I-49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans, he said.

Those areas include the Calumet Cut to Morgan City, “which is one of the most dangerous stretches that still remains,” Allain said, the Evangeline thruway around Lafayette, La. 1 to Raceland at the I-310 bridge and Boutte to New Orleans.

Tommy Hebert of U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s office said Vitter is “completely on board with the project.”

“We will work hard to secure funding for right of way acquisition and construction and completion of the project,” Hebert said.

Allain stressed that the money individuals or businesses give to the coalition will be an “investment.”

“Most of the businesses I talk to realize that their businesses will be enhanced. They see a return on their investment. We believe that there will be a return on the investment,” Allain said.

A citizen’s membership will consist of a minimum $50 investment. Citizen members will be non-voting members and will receive updates on coalition activities.

A stakeholder’s membership will consist of a minimum $500 investment and one vote toward the election of the board. Members must be at least a stakeholder to be eligible for election to the board.

A champion’s membership will consist of a minimum $2,000 investment and a maximum two votes toward the election of the board.

A stakeholders meeting to elect the coalition board members has not been scheduled yet, Allain said. The meeting could be in 30 to 60 days but nothing has been determined.

Voting members will elect a 20-member board, 10 members from the eastern part of the coalition and 10 members from the western part of the coalition. The planned dividing line for the election of board members is the St. Mary/Iberia Parish line, Allain said.

“This is the best that I’ve seen organized. … It’s not going to be perfect. We’re going to hit bumps in the road the whole way,” said Randy Haynie of Haynie and Associates lobbying and government relations firm. “If we don’t stay behind this project, it will not get done.”

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

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