I-49 cost estimate lowered

PATTERSON, La. — The projected cost of raising U.S. 90 to Interstate standards between Calumet and Morgan City has been lowered about 40 percent, according to state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, at an I-49 South task force meeting Thursday morning at the Patterson Area Civic Center.

Completing the project is estimated at $250 million, down from $410 million. The lower cost is achieved through redesigning the project from an elevated highway to one that is built at grade level as much as possible, Allain said.

“The goal is to build the highway with maximum access for the communities and with safety in mind,” Allain said.

Joe Bloise of the state Highway Department of Transportation and Development made the first public disclosure Thursday morning that the state is looking at new concepts for constructing I-49 South.

The revised plans and cost estimate for Section 3, from Calumet to Morgan City, was presented to elected officials in a closed meeting a week ago in Patterson, according to Michael Tamperello, an Allain aide.

The new concept includes changing original plans to build an elevated highway through much of the stretch between Lafayette and the West Bank of New Orleans. Elected officials were briefed of these revised plans at closed door meetings in the past few weeks that took place in Jefferson, Lafourche and St. Charles parishes and Patterson.

The overall cost to complete that stretch was originally estimated at $4 billion to $5 billion.

Lowering the cost of the construction by nearly $160 million is a good thing, Lafayette City Parish-President Joey Durel, said with a caveat.

“You are always concerned when things change because you assume what was originally approved was the best way,” Durel said after the meeting. “I hope we don’t lower our standards.” Durel is also the chairman of the task force.

The information released was made when the I-49 South Feasibility and Funding Task Force invited state and federal highway departments to make a presentation on how the construction can be funded.

The majority of the section between Lafayette and Calumet has been funded with the exception of an interchange at La. 318. The remainder of the project is unfunded.

Tolls are among the sources of funding considered, according to Jennifer Mayer of the Federal Highway Administration. Other funding mechanisms include private-public partnerships, private sponsorship, or even private companies that would benefit from the highway making a significant financial contribution.

Mayer said a portion of sales taxes could be dedicated to transportation and utilized for the construction of I-49 South or new taxes could be considered such as a hotel tax or value added tax on property.

Tolls are often resisted because of a perception of “paying twice,” according to Darren Timothy, a Federal Highway Administration official. People sometimes see paying tolls as unfair after they have already paid fuel taxes, he said.

Finding some source of funding is critical to complete the highway construction past the Wax Lake Outlet, state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said on Thursday afternoon.

“I think we should consider renewing the TIMED Program that helped four-lane hundreds of miles of highways throughout the state in the past 30 years,” Jones said. One of those projects was the four-laning of U.S. 90 into St. Mary Parish.

The Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development Program is the single largest transportation program in state history, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation website.

In the program, a 4-cent gasoline tax financed a $4.7 billion improvement program, which included widening 536 miles of state highways to four lanes on 11 project corridors, and widening and/or new construction on three major bridges since 1990.

“TIMED is set to expire soon,” Jones said. “I believe we should consider a TIMED 2. This would not be a new tax but continue what is already in place. We could fund the I-49 South as a top priority project in it.”

Implementing a new TIMED Program would distribute the cost of new highway construction to everybody throughout the state and would raise greater revenue and much faster than tolls, according to Jones.

A toll study is to be done in August, in conjunction with the new concepts the state highway department is presenting, Bloise said.

Durel said that any inclination toward political squabbles needs to be “nipped in the bud.” He encouraged area officials to unite in their goals and make a united presentation to state highway officials in a united front.

A toll study is to be done in August, in conjunction with the new concepts the state highway department is presenting, Bloise said.

St. Mary Now & Franklin Banner-Tribune

Franklin Banner-Tribune
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Morgan City Daily Review
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Phone: 985-384-8370
Fax: 985-384-4255

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