Push to finish I-49 South takes ‘first step’

PATTERSON — State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Jeanerette, and a group of invited community members from multiple parishes took the first step in an effort to form a coalition to complete Interstate 49 from Lafayette to New Orleans Tuesday at the Patterson Civic Center in Patterson.

The safety of people traveling along what is currently U.S. 90 and what would become I-49, improving the roadway to interstate quality, from Lafayette to New Orleans is “the No. 1 reason for doing this,” Allain said. “And it’s awful nice that it’s going to bring more businesses and more jobs to the area all along the (I-49) corridor,” he said.

The Morgan City area and St. Mary Parish will benefit greatly from the project, Allain said.

“There’s no greater benefit than this area right here,” he said. “New Iberia can still feed off of Lafayette and Houma/Thibodaux really kind of feed off of New Orleans as far as commerce and flowing back and forth. This is the area, of all of this I-49 project, St. Mary Parish has the potential for the greatest impact of businesses and jobs of any area in the corridor, bar none,” Allain said.

A completed I-49 also would serve as an evacuation route, he said.

At the organizational meeting, Allain, as the leader for the formation of the coalition, laid out how the coalition will be set up and what its main objective is. “We look to put together a coalition, first with the stakeholders, then have a stakeholder meeting. … We’re going to send out a letter of support to your membership to encourage them to join and support the effort of the I-49 South Coalition,” Allain said.

The coalition must organize, obtain information and identify funding, he said.

After the initial stakeholders meeting of members, a meeting will be held to elect 10 board members from the eastern part of the coalition and 10 board members from the western part of the coalition.

The past chairwoman of the Acadiana Regional Alliance, Marion Fox, said the alliance decided to make finishing I-49 South between Lafayette and New Orleans a priority, but until Allain stepped in, there was no leader to push for the completion of I-49 South.

“We had talks with the ARA and what I’m going to call the west, but we also need to bring all the groups like the industrial groups and the chambers from the east to make one huge coalition that, politically, cannot be ignored anymore,” Allain said.

“You ask, ‘Why now?’” Allain said. “I-49 North, which was one of the major competitors for funds in the past, is completed. Almost a billion and a half dollars in the I-10/I-12 corridor has been spent east of Baton Rouge to update and complete that corridor. Like I told the governor, it’s our turn.”

Representatives from chambers of commerce and economic development and other business-related organizations from across the affected areas were in attendance.

Allain said the La. 1 Coalition headed by executive director Henri Boulet has “shown us the way” as far as forming a coalition and working to get funding and getting projects “shovel ready.”

Right now, the estimated cost to complete the more than 120 mile stretch from Lafayette to New Orleans is roughly $4.5 billion to $5 billion, he said. Allain said most of the funding will have to come from the federal government.

“This is not something that is going to happen overnight,” said Randy Haynie of Haynie and Associates lobbying and government relations firm. “I think we need to prepare for a decade (to complete it),” he said.

Boulet explained what he has learned leading the La. 1 coalition, specifically regarding toll roads, which is something that has been talked about as a possibility for I-49 South.

“The state, and I can say this from La. 1 experience, has advanced tremendously in bringing upon the newest technology for tolling. The state had not opened a toll road in 30 years until they did La. 1 three years ago,” Boulet said. “But people are finally getting used to it (automatic toll paying similar to an ATM machine). They’re getting used to buying toll tags … I think I-49 will benefit in many ways from La. 1 having opened a toll road and getting communities and industry familiar with it.”

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