Study tabled on I-49 South alternative route

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — A proposal to study an alternative path for Interstate 49 South that would bypass Lafayette appears dead for this year.

State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, and state Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge, filed a legislative "study request" asking the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to evaluate the so-called "Teche Ridge" route for I-49 South, which would skirt Lafayette to the east through rural St. Martin Parish.Such requests do not require a vote but can be blocked if at least one third of the House or the Senate files written objections. The study made it out of the House, but 15 of Louisiana's 39 senators objected to the proposal, legislative records show.

"For us to start over again would set the project back at least 10 years and throw away the millions of dollars that have been spent. ... That doesn't make sense to me," said state Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, one of the 15 senators who objected to the Teche Ridge study.

Landry said Thursday that the objections mean the Teche Ridge study proposal is off the table for this year.

"Next year, I'll apply for it again, especially if there is no movement with this project," Landry said of I-49 South.

The current plan for I-49 South calls for an elevated interstate through Lafayette that roughly follows the path of the Evangeline Thruway. Federal transportation officials approved that route in 2003, but the project has been stalled for lack of funding.

Opponents of that plan, along with officials in St. Martin Parish, had floated the Teche Ridge alternative route more than 10 years ago, but the idea never got traction.

Landry and Huval's study request this year was the first time in several years that the Teche Ridge alternative has been back up for discussion.

The proposed Teche Ridge bypass would begin north of Lafayette, breaking away from I-49 near Carencro and then reconnect with U.S. 90 south of Youngsville.

Landry said he was not advocating the Teche Ridge route, but wanted DOTD to at least study the alternative to determine if it could be built for less money and with less impact on existing neighborhoods than the current plan for I-49 through Lafayette.

"We are 10 years down the road and nothing has happened. It's mind boggling that no one wants to look at another route," Landry said.

It would cost more than $1 billion to complete the elevated I-49 section through Lafayette and to upgrade U.S. 90 to interstate standards all the way to Iberia Parish, according to the most recent estimates.

Landry and Huval's proposal comes as there has been a renewed push to complete I-49 South from Lafayette to New Orleans, including the creation of the I-49 South Coalition, a group of political and business leaders who are working to secure funding for the road.

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