Saturday, July 2, 2016

Airport angles and increased risk

SUMMARY: Because this is an unusually long post, you may wish to skip first to the SUMMARY at the end of this post before reading the entire post.

A LOT has been written on the topic of "things you just should never do."  One of these "never do" actions is to build tall structures next to your airport. This is precisely the DOTD plan for extending I-49 through Lafayette.

In an earlier post I talked in general about the problems associated with the Connector plans relative to the Lafayette Airport. In this post. I want to get down to specifics.

Figure 1.  Google Earth image of the northwest end of runway 11-29 in relation to the intersection of Evangeline Thruway, University Ave, and Surrey St.  

Federal safety guidance defines the maximum height that objects should not exceed in the vicinity of airports. This definition is based on a number of imaginary surfaces through which no objects sitting on the ground should penetrate. Keeping aircraft above the imaginary surfaces, and all terrestrial objects below, provides for safe landings and takeoffs.

The lowest of these imaginary surfaces, the primary surface, is a rectangle at the elevation of the runway. The primary surface extends 200 feet beyond each end of the runway and 500 feet on each side of the runway centerline. Beyond each end of the primary surface there is an approach surface. The approach surface begins at the primary surface elevation and rises, for runway 11-29, at a slope of 34:1 (termed a 3% slope). That is, for every 34 feet of center-line distance the surface rises 1 foot.  At their intersection, the width of the approach surface is the same as the primary surface, 1000 feet, and is centered on the runway center-line. The approach surface widens to 4000 feet at 10,000 feet ground distance from the primary surface. That is, the approach surface width is 1000+0.3x, where x is the ground distance along the center-line away from the primary surface. There are other defined surfaces (transitional surface, horizontal surface, conical surface), but only the primary and approach surfaces are relevant to the issue of runway displacement for 11-29.

The 2002 Final EIS asserts in numerous locations that the Lafayette Regional Airport runway 11-29 will need to be displaced 350 feet to the southeast toward Bayou Tortue and Cypress Island Swamp from its present location to meet minimum federal safety requirements for an approach surface slope of 34:1 and a 17 foot margin of safety (FEIS exhibit 4-4). While the FEIS makes the assertion that the 350 foot displacement is required, it does not show the underlying data or rationale needed to support the claim. I have therefore been forced to attempt to recreate these calculations. My calculations, however, do not agree with the conclusion in the FEIS. Lacking documentation of the FEIS methods, I conclude that the 350 foot assertion is likely in error.

A history and general information about the Lafayette Regional airport may be found in the Wikipedia article titled "Lafayette Regional Airport." Additional information on the airport That web page also includes a link to a useful Airport Diagram. The diagram shows that runway 11-29 is 5401 feet long and 148 feet wide. Elevation at the northeastern end (designated 11) is 37 feet; elevation at the southeastern end (designated 29) is 35 feet.

Figure 1 is an image captured from Google Earth of the northwest end (designation 11) of runway 11-29. It illustrates that the runway does end quite close to the current highway. Measurement shows that the runway currently ends roughly 600 feet from Evangeline Thruway (Hwy 90), and roughly 700 feet from the intersection of the Evangeline Thruway, Surrey St, and University Ave.

Figure 2. This image is extracted from the FEIS Plate 2a2. North in this figure is to the right, and distance along the horizontal extent of the roadway in hundreds of feet is given on the horizontal axis; elevation in feet (NGVD 29 datum) is plotted on the vertical axis. The roadway is charted as the solid black line. The 40 foot elevation is highlighted by a dotted red line. Peak roadway height at the interchange is estimated to be 45 feet. 

Finally, it is necessary to estimate the height of objects above the roadway. This could include signs, streetlights, and aircraft warning lights. The FEIS does mention this, and suggests that special signage and lighting may be necessary. Thus, I will assume that the height of the vehicles on the roadway will be the tallest objects above the roadway. There is no Federal vehicle height requirement for commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Most eastern states, including Louisiana, set a CMV height limit of 13.5 feet on most highways. Louisiana does allow heights of 14 feet on designated highways, and oversize permits can be routinely issued for heights up to 16 feet 5 inches. Without specific guidance from the Louisiana DOTD, it is unclear what height should be assumed. Here, I will simply assume a maximum height of 15 feet for all vehicles and objects on the roadway.

Assuming the peak height at the interchange structure controls the required runway displacement, the calculation of length for the approach surface is now straightforward.  The interchange height plus object height has an elevation of 60 feet (45+15). Adding the FAA 17 foot margin of safety gives a total elevation of 77 feet. Subtracting the runway height which defines the primary surface elevation then gives a height of 40 feet (77-37). At a slope of 34:1, the length of the approach surface to the primary surface is 1,360 feet (34x40). At this point along the approach surface, the approach surface width is 1408 feet (1000 + 0.3x1,360), or 704 feet on each side of the extended runway center-line (Figure 3). Adding the 200 foot width of the primary surface at the end of the runway gives a total distance form the peak of the interchange of 1,560 feet. The present distance is estimated to be 700 feet, so the total runway displacement required would be 860 feet (Figure 4). This is 510 feet longer than the value asserted in the FEIS. This difference significantly brings into question the economic, environmental, and engineering feasibility of the displacement.

Figure 3. The more northern half of the new approach surface (black outlined trapezoid) begins with a width which is 500 feet on either side of the extended runway centerline, and 200 feet beyond the new runway end (orange line). The distance to the centerline extends to 704 feet at the proposed elevated interchange.

The calculated extension will require very roughly the destruction of 45 acres of the Cypress Island Swamp west of the airport (Figure 4), and more if embankments in the swamp must be longer than existing embankments. This considerably exceeds the 5 acres estimated in the FEIS (p 4-92).


Figure 4. The upper figure (a) shows the current airport runway at the southeast end of runway 11-29. The lower figure (b) is the same image with an 860 foot length of runway and associated area is copied onto the current end of the runway. The original image was printed from Google Earth. 
Construction would require significant fill, and consolidation of the underlying wetland soil will further aggravate the existing problems of soil stability at this end of runway 11-29.  The FEIS on page 2-10 states that "a prior runway extension of about 200' constructed in 1967 has subsided up to approximately four feet and has been removed from service." This fill will encounter even greater engineering challenges.

The new extension into the swamp will need to deal with a very significant drop in elevation (Figure 5). As much as 35 feet of fill will be required for the extension. If earthen embankments are used at the sides of the filled area, considerably more than the estimated 35 acre area of wetland may be required in order to accommodate the more extensive embankment areas.

Figure 5. In (a), the center line of the runway (red line) is extended at the southwest end of runway 11-29. The green bar indicates 860 feet from the end of the center line, and the thin white lie crossing the center line is 860 feet from the runway end. Figure (b) graphs elevation along the center line from 39 ft to 4 ft.  

Options: What are our options? They include:
  1. The No Build alternative should always be considered. If the currently planned I-49 Connector project is abandoned, it could be replaced by upgrades to the current Evangeline Thruway, and bypass to the east along the Teche-Ridge, west using the LRX alignment, or both to form an urban loop.
  2. Build the connector project as decided in the FEIS and ROD, and extend runway 11-29 as required to meet minimum FAA guidelines. This will require land acquisition and a Corps of Engineers wetland permit. Likely this alternative will further require wetland mitigation and flood mitigation.
  3. Build the connector project as decided in the FEIS and ROD, and request an FAA exemption from airport approach obstacle safety requirements.
  4. Abandon use of runway 11-29.
  5. Revise the design in of the selected alternative to eliminate roadway elevation in the vicinity of the 11-29 runway approach surface.

SUMMARY: The I-49 Connector FEIS identified unacceptable risk due to failure to meet FAA flight path obstruction guidance, resulting from the proposed interchange construction adjacent to the Lafayette Regional Airport. Without documenting calculations or rationale, the FEIS stated that in order to meet these minimum safety requirements, airport runway 11-29 would need to be displaced 350 feet southeast toward Bayou Tortue and the Cypress Island Swamp.

My calculations, based on FAA guidance, arrive at runway displacement considerably longer than that presented in the FEIS. Here, following FAA guidance, I calculated that the required displacement is 860 feet. This significant difference brings into question the economic, environmental, and engineering feasibility of the displacement. Impact of this displacement on flooding, wildlife, and wetlands should be carefully addressed and documented by DOTD.

The public attitude toward airport safety should always be conservative and circumspect. The Airport's 1975 Master Plan concludes "Conditions at the airport's periphery make expansion of its land area difficult or expensive or both." Even beyond the impacts of runway displacement discussed above, it is simply inappropriate to choose to construct any tall structures on the periphery of our airport which is already severely constrained at its location. Tall structures like the University and Kaliste Saloom interchanges constrain future airport runway alignment adjustments, and impact the ability to meet current requirements and future safety requirements should FAA guidance on safety margins or approach slopes change for any reason.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Degrading Acadiana's cultural treasure-Vermilionville

Figure 1. This view across the pond at Vermilionville will look directly 
up at the University/Thruway/I-49 interchange and elevated interstate 49.
This photo was taken roughly 600 feet from the proposed Con alignment.
Since opening in 1990, Vermilionville has provided a serene location on the bank of Bayou Vermilion for Acadiana citizens and tourists to learn about and share the history of the Cajun culture. Providing the illusion of an isolated rural village, Vermilionville is a major part of the educational and cultural experience that is passing our culture on to both children and adults who participate in hands-on activities and celebrations. Vermilionville is truly our premier Acadiana cultural attraction.

But, how will constructing the proposed Lafayette I-49 Connector interstate impact this cultural jewel?

To answer this question, let's look at some pictures. Figure 1 is a photo taken from the parking lot of Vermilionville overlooking one of the small lakes at the site. The Evangeline Thruway is just 600 feet away on the other side of this lake ( see camera icon in Figure 2), but it is hidden by trees which also dampen the sound of the urban traffic and add to the illusion of isolation. The plan for the I-49 Connector project (the Con) is to build an elevated interstate above the current ground level path of the Thruway (wide red line at the top of Figure 2).

Currently, traffic moves at speeds at or below 50 mph along the Thruway; after the Con is completed, traffic will move at interstate speeds along an elevated roadway. Figure 3 shows the roadway elevation as it approaches and passes Vermilionville. At speeds below 50 mph, current Thruway traffic noise is dominated by the sound of car and truck engines, but above 50 highway noise is dominated by the higher frequency roar from tires rolling along the pavement. This high speed scream of the interstate will be focused at Vermilionville by northbound traffic dropping from the 45 foot elevation University/Surrey/Frontage Road/I-49 three-level interchange, and then climbing to stay elevated above the hill just north of the Bayou Vermilion bridge (Figure 3). The Vermilionville visitor center entrance is just 1000 feet from the proposed Con roadway, and 2000 feet from the peak of the planned University-Surrey interchange. Noise levels within Vermilionville will destroy all illusion of isolation, and at times may even make normal conversation difficult.

In addition to interstate's traffic noise, cars and trucks topping the interchange will be clearly visible to Vermilionville visitors. At night, the aircraft warning lighting atop the interchange, roadway lighting, and headlights will further reduce Vermilionville's illusion of isolation and serenity.

Figure 2. This is a Google Earth view of the Thruway and Vermilionville.
The path of the Con is plotted at the top, location of the photo (Figure 1),
The Vermilionville Visitor Center, and National Park Service are shown.
Note that north is rotated to the right in this aerial photo.                         
Figure 3. This drawing is adapted from EIS Plate 2a. A side view along the proposed roadway
is drawn here plotting elevation versus roadway distance going north. The red arrow indicates 
the location of Vermilionville which is on the bank of Bayou Vermilion. The shaded area at 
the bottom is below the ground; the solid black line graphs the road elevation. The blue line 
is drawn at 40 ft elevation. The numbers along the  bottom axis (300 and 325) are distances 
along the roadway in hundreds of feet (30,000 and 32,500 feet). Note again that in this figure
north is rotated to the right in this drawing. Elevation on the vertical axis is (I assume) NGVD.

So, how does the Con's Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluate the impact to Vermilionville, and what does it propose as solutions? Answer: Not much!

EIS Section 3.2.6 describes legal requirements placed on DOTD and FHWA by a so-called "section 4(f) properties designation." The EIS states that
Under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act 49 USC 1653(f), the Federal Highway Administration cannot approve any program or project which requires the use of land from a significant public park, recreation area, wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or historic sites (on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places) unless: (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to such use, and (2) the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property from such use.
Speaking of Vermilionville, Beaver Park, and other impacted recreational areas, EIS Section 4.2.3 concludes "A slight noise increase would be expected at Beaver Park for the EA-1 and RR-4 alternatives." and "In general, recreation areas in the corridor would be positively impacted due to the improved accessibility, with increased usage possible once the project is complete." So, the answer is that no negative impact on Vermilionville is considered by the EIS, and nothing will be done to mitigate any impact.

Speaking solely of Beaver Park, section 4.2.3 of the EIS commits not to action, mitigation, or re-design, but rather it commits to the possibly needing to prepare more documents:
Should design details as subsequently developed cause impacts which are not currently apparent, 4(f) and 6(f) applicability would be reviewed by the FHWA and DOTD and statements prepared, if warranted.
So, what is the best alternative for Vermilionville, Beaver Park, all the other recreational, cultural, educational, and religious sites along the Con's alignment? Simply stated:

  • Don't build the Con! 
  • Build a bypass or complete loop!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The specter of tolls on the I-49 Connector

By SPUI [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Specter of Tolls on I-49 continues. On June 4, 2016, we learned in the Advertiser's report on the end of the legislative session that "The State... opened new possibilities for creating toll roads where they might spur construction." It appears from the article that One Acadiana had lobbied for this change. The Advocate (May 31, 2016) reported that State Secretary of Transportation, Shawn Wilson, told the state legislature that tolls on state highways and bridges are an option under consideration and that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration is “very supportive of tolling as an option to fund transportation and to fund projects that are significant." We have also heard Secretary Wilson say that the Lafayette Connector which they are actively promoting is very significant. Could tolls on the Lafayette Connector be a part of the administration's plan? At this point it appears likely.

The specter of tolls on the I-49 Connector and all of I-49 South has been foreshadowed for years. Former Secretary of Transportation Kam Movassaghi was quoted (The Independent, April 14, 2009) saying that tolls must be considered for funding I-49 construction. An expert speaking to a meeting sponsored by One Acadiana (The Advocate, October 22, 2015) suggested that a toll of $0.19 per mile might be used to fund I-49 completion, and an Advocate article (September 22, 2014) reported that a state funded feasibility study looked at $0.18 per mile for I-49 funding. Former State Senator and then I-49 South Coalition Director, Mike Michot, was quoted in that same article saying about I-49 South "It seems unlikely a project of that magnitude will be built without the help of toll dollars."

However, tolls have been ruled to be outside the range of discussion in DOTD Community Work Group and Technical Work Group meetings held this year. When questioned, state DOTD employees and their contractors have typically refused to discuss just how the so-called Connector will be funded. The most we are now told is that the question of methods of financing will be considered at some future time after we make the decision to proceed with a selected design.

DOTD has not ruled out collecting tolls to finance the Connector, they have simply ruled it to be inappropriate as an item of discussion. Clearly charging tolls for use of the proposed I-49 Connector would impact many of the project's projected benefits, and could add new design constraints. Why has DOTD chosen to ignore this specter? We can imagine two reasons:

  1. DOTD recognizes that placing tolls on Lafayette citizens for local travel will increase the unpopularity of their already locally unpopular Connector plan.
  2. DOTD's excessively high planning projections of 100,000 vehicles per day would become even more suspect because many drivers, particularly those making frequent local trips would avoid the cost and inconvenience of tolls by taking alternative city street routes. 

A tolled I-49 in Lafayette would have significant impact on traffic levels on alternative city streets - Louisiana Avenue, University Avenue, and the degraded capacity Evangeline Thruway envisioned in most Connector alternatives.  The current traffic models being used to frighten us with onerous future projections assume free access to the proposed Connector. Until tolls are taken off the table, model projections should include tolled as well as free access alternatives in all planning projections.

Here is my own conceptual traffic model projection. A toll of $0.18 to $0.19 per mile will result in a toll of about $1.00 in each direction on the 5.5 mile Connector. For a commuting worker with a 250 day work year, this effectively adds a new $500 annual tax if they choose to commute on the toll way. Again, the Connector will become a Divider, allowing those who can afford the added cost to ride at high speed and with little traffic, while the common people of Lafayette Parish will be segregated onto the even more traffic congested city streets.

The option of tolls is clearly still on the table. Until DOTD makes the determination about whether this will be a toll road, all planning is simple fantasy.

References and further reading discussing the likelihood of tolls for Acadiana:

The Independent, April 14, 2009, Movassaghi: tolls must be considered for I-49

The Independent, January 12, 2012, Guest editorial: Public-private route for I-49 South?

The Independent, January 18, 2012, Southern Strategy

The Independent, November 13, 2012, La. 1 a good example for I-49 South

The Advocate, September 22, 2014, Tolls are possible to complete Interstate 49 South

The Advocate, October 22, 2015, Finance expert: I-49 Connector through Lafayette would require tolls, taxes or both to fund construction

The Advertiser, October 23, 2015, Citigroup and the Lafayette Loop — what's next?

Toll Road News, October 23, 2016, Tolling an Option for $750-800 Million Louisiana Project

The Advocate, May 31, 2016, Tolls a possibility to fund major road projects as state faces $12.7 billion backlog, DOTD leader says

The Advertiser, June 4, 2016, Session's end: What's won, what's left

Note: This is an updated and expanded version of a post first published on June 1, 2016.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Expected Loss of Residential Property Values due to the Lafayette Connector

Source: Lafayette Consolidated Government,
Metropolitan Planning Organization
The old joke asks "What are the three most important factors in determining the value of a house?" The realtor answers "Location, location, and location." There is clearly some truth in this joke, and location close enough to an interstate highway to see it or hear it or smell it is clearly a negative.

The area of impact of the I-49 Connector project has been wordsmithed by proponents into the project's "area of influence." The attached figure outlines this area of influence as defined by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The question I'm asking here is "How much will home values within the impacted zone be depressed if the I-49 Connector project is built?" This is a vitally important question because for many residents their home is their greatest financial asset.

Residential property values of homes located near interstates are reduced because of noise, pollution, and appearance of the roadway. Taken together, these impacts on appraised value from being located close to an interstate are called interstate proximity stigma.

How much would the proximity stigma of the I-49 Connector reduce property values? Research looking at home sales from 2002-2005 within one mile of Interstate 90 in Seattle (Kilpatrick and others, 2007) confirmed the anticipated result - home prices closer to I-90 were lower, and prices more distant are higher. Under the researchers' model, a home 0.4 miles from the interstate lost 4% of its value relative to a comparable home one mile from the roadway; a home 0.1 miles from the roadway lost 13% of its value. Consistent with these findings, Clark and Herrin (1997) found a 10% reduction in value when homes were located within 0.25 miles of an interstate.

Thus, it is concluded from these studies, as well as common sense, that home values within the zone of influence would be reduced after construction of the I-49 Connector. A 10% reduction in value is a reasonable guess based on the cited research. Moreover, it is reasonable to further assume that houses in the impacted area will typically be harder to sell and will stay on the market longer than houses not suffering the interstate proximity stigma.

D.E. Clark, and W.E. Herrin (1997) "Historical preservation districts and home sale prices: Evidence from the Sacramento housing market" The Review of Regional Studies27.1 (1997): 29-48.

Kilpatrick, J.A., R.L. Throupe, J.I. Carruthers, and A. Krause (2007) "The Impact of Transit Corridors on Residential Property Values" Journal of Real Estate Research 29(3):303-320.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The I-49 Lafayette Bypass Option: Teche Ridge

Google Earth image showing the approximate path of the
proposed Teche Ridge bypass.

For nearly two decades, Acadiana residents and taxpayers have urged DOTD to consider an I-49 bypass option following the Teche Ridge in St. Martin Parish. This roadway would follow along the natural ridge that follows west of Bayou Teche. This area has few wetlands, does not flood, and is primarily in agricultural use. An engineering feasibility study, funded in part by the St. Martin Police Jury, was completed by the engineering firm T Baker Smith.

And, as taxpayers the difference in estimated cost is staggering. The 5.5 mile I-49 Connector (Divider) is estimated to cost over $1 billion, while the 20 mile Teche Ridge route would cost far less than one third of that total. This is over $200 million per mile for the Connector before costs of toxic waste cleanup and flood control are even considered. The 20 mile Teche Ridge route would cost a more conventional $15 million per mile.

The Teche Ridge route would obviate extending the Lafayette Regional Airport runway into the Cypress Island Swamp, avoid issues of diminished airport safety, obviate wetland loss from fill, and obviate induced flooding associated with the airport revisions. It also greatly improves resilience of hurricane evacuation for the large population living south of Lafayette.

Furthermore, the Teche Ridge route could be a part of a larger project to provide a bypass loop around our urban core. Combining the Teche Ridge route with the western Lafayette Regional Xpressway (LRX) would give Lafayette a full urban interstate loop. Now, note that this 80 mile loop would cost approximately the same as the 5.5 urban Divider being forced on our taxpayers and neighborhoods.

For more information on the Teche Ridge, check out these resources:

Teche Ridge Bypass Facebook page

Presentation by Harold Schoeffler to the St. Martin Parish Police Jury

Teche News article on the Teche Ridge Highway alternative.

The Daily Iberian, February 17, 2016, Teche Ridge I-49 proposal gets traction in St. Martin

Hurricane Evacuation via Urban Interstate

Rita evacuees from Houston Texas, September 21, 2005
Photo: Wikipedia - Hurricane Evacuation

Hurricane evacuation routes must not only have capacity to carry evacuation traffic, but must also be resilient in the face of challenges of heavy rain and strong gusting winds, motorists running out of gas as electric outages prevent refills, 18 wheeler truck accidents along with auto accidents, and frightened frustrated drivers. How will the planned I-49 Connector perform under these conditions? How does this performance compare to alternatives?

First, how resilient is the Connector design? Resilience is the proposed design? Answer - not at all. A single truck or motorist running out of fuel or having an accident on the elevated bridge could stall or stop traffic for hours as we have seen all too often on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. The two elevated roadways planned for the Connector will have no emergency cross overs, and will be susceptible to closure for trucks or even all traffic under high wind conditions. Motorists may well find themselves stranded on the bridge as a hurricane approaches. Moreover, resilience is lost in the design by the planned downgrading of traffic capacity on the Evangeline Thruway. Finally, city residents will find evacuation even more problematic under the Connector design as local traffic is concentrated at entrance ramps.

How does this compare to alternative? Bothe the eastern Teche Ridge route, and the Lafayette Regional Xpressway (LRX) to the west offer added resilience to the highway system under evacuation conditions. Both roadways would be primarily at-grade. This makes them less susceptible to wind hazards, and allows more rapid reopening following accidents or blockages. These options would add capacity for evacuation, while leaving existing city roadways available for city and parish residents to also evacuate when necessary.

Residents of Acadiana are all to familiar with the reliability of long bridges. The I-10 Atchafalaya Basin Bridge all too often is stalled by accidents. A colleague of mine who often commuted across this structure always carried her fishing pole for just such occurrences. Let's not depend on a long bridge for evacuation of our families and neighbors.

Crash closes I-10 for 15 hours along basin bridge.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The I-49 Lafayette Western Bypass Option: The "Lafayette Regional Xpressway"

One bypass alternative for Lafayette has been under study by the DOTD since 2003. At that time, the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission was created by the Louisiana State Legislature. They are commissioned to study alternatives for the Lafayette Regional Xpressway, or simply the LRX. The LRX would create a bypass loop which begins in the south at Highway 90 / I-49 south of Broussard, has a major interchanges as it crosses Highway 167 (Johnston Street) north of Abbeville, and I-10 between Duson and Scott. This portion of the roadway would be very roughly 25 miles. The bypass would then continue north and east for roughly 20 miles to return to I-49 north of Carencro. An eastern bypass leg of very roughly 15 miles would run south east from north of Carencro to I-10 west of Breaux Bridge. Total length of the Lafayette Regional Xpressway bypass would then be very roughly 60 miles.

 The Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway 2005 feasibility study’s rendering of a proposed expressway. (Photo: Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway)

At an estimated cost of $760 million, the cost per mile for this roadway is under $13 million per Interstate mile. The 5.5 mile Lafayette Connector project which now has cost estimates of over $1 billion before toxic waste removal and flood mitigation have even been considered. This gives the Connector a cost that will greatly exceed $182 million per mile. 

More information is available at

Lafayette Regional Xpressway Project Website

The Advertiser, October 23, 2015,  Citigroup and the Lafayette Loop — what's next?

The Advertiser, October 23, 2015,  Is Lafayette ready for a traffic loop?

Lafayette Regional Expressway Rendering

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Evangeline Thruway did NOT split our neighborhoods!

Let's look at the actual history of Lafayette. The railroad has been an important part of our city's development. By 1885, Lafayette had a full fledged railroad, and significant freight was shipping from Lafayette by train in the 1890s.  New residences were constructed as the railroad developed. However, the presence of the rail yard limited the connection between communities on its two sides. It was not until 1964, after the rail yard was moved to its current location between Willow and Cameron Streets, that multiple connections between the east and west were established. It was not until the 1960s, for example, that Johnston Street was extended to meet Louisiana Avenue across the abandoned yard.

So, when paid Connector proponents tell you that they are reconnecting our city, remind them that currently more than 30 streets connect east to west across the Thruway. None of the plans for the urban interstate development maintain this level of connectivity, much less increase it.
Reference: C. Ray Brassieur, Lionel Lyles, Michael S. Martinc, Freetown: As it was and as it is, The Freetown History Project Final Report, November 30, 2013, available at

Sanborn overview map, 1940-1949.

Hazardous Cargo in Downtown Lafayette: A Very Bad Idea

Many communities take the prudent step of limiting hazardous carriers from urban interstates. Photo:
Risk results from a combination of the hazard associated with a substance, and the probability of exposure to the public. Many communities reduce public risk by routing hazardous truck cargo along less populated routes which bypass more urban areas. Unfortunately, the added risk of hazardous transport moving at interstate speeds above or adjacent to downtown Lafayette has been ignored by DOTD and our city planners. The prudent approach that minimizes public risk is to first build a bypass route for I-49 around our dense urban core and downtown area. Only after a suitable hazardous material route is available should an urban interstate be discussed.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Moon Suits in Downtown Lafayette

Have DOTD or LCG-ECI (aka TIGER Grant) folks, considered what we would see downtown if they actually do construct underpasses or depressed roadway through the huge toxic rail yard? From their public statements, it does not appear that they have given any thought to the subject. 

With high levels of lead, arsenic, asbestos, oil, and TCE, workers will need whole body cover (hazmat suits often called "moon suits") and respirators. After all, this site has been recognized in Federal Court to be a highly toxic site. Additionally, any equipment used at the site will need to be decontaminated, and even the equipment wash water will have to be collected and disposed of as hazardous waste. Any exposure or excavation of toxic soil will also require a dust control plan, volatiles control plan, air monitoring, and collection and treatment of all stormwater and seepage accumulating or running off the site.  Water treatment will likely need to meet drinking water standards prior to discharge.

Of course, citizens who live and work nearby may just have to hope the dust control and volatiles control is working. Citizens going for lunch at Dwyer's or for coffee at Reve will not be issued government hazmat suits and respirators - we'll just be on our own.

So - what would be the alternative to DOTD excavating the site? I believe that such sites are usually left mostly undisturbed. Any especially contaminated locations within the site might be excavated, but in order to protect local people and property, most of the site would be remediated by in-situ methods like "pump and treat." In this method of remediation, wells are drilled into the contaminated layer, water is continually pumped from these wells, and the water is treated and discharged. This approach prevents further spreading of the waste, while avoiding risk of further public exposure. Furthermore, in this approach, no disturbance of the site by excavation, soil boring, pile driving, or similar activity would be allowed for decades or longer as the toxics are slowly carried to the treatment wells. This alternative has environmental, public health, and economic advantages, but is incompatible with elevated roadway, overpass bridge, or underpass construction in near future years. 

Construction site dust can be difficult to control.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How big will the I-49 Connector retention pond be? Where will we put it?

Retention/detention pond behind the new Costco store in Lafayette, Louisiana.
photo credit: M. Waldon, no rights reserved

The Lafayette I-49 Connector project envisions a new 5.5 mile highway project going through Lafayette. Where will its storm water drain? The 2002 Environmental Impact Statement simply says it will drain directly into the Vermilion at its southern end, and into local drainage which flows to the Vermilion in its central and northern sections. Even in 2002, it must have been apparent that this could impact flooding. Today, we generally require retention/detention ponds to hold back flows from new construction so that no added flooding results from new projects. These ponds also reduce water pollution by settling out some pollutants How could this not be a major topic of discussion today?

Let's do a "back-of-the-envelope" calculation to get an idea of how large the pond or ponds must be. The project is 5.5 miles (29,040 feet) long, and average width is, I'm guessing, about 600 feet. Multiplying gives 17.424 million square feet of total project area. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre, and division gives 400 acres for the entire project area.

A big 3-day rain event in Lafayette can drop a lot of rain, and we need to plan for the really big storms to avoid flooding. At times we have gotten over 20 inches of rain in one day, so I will assume for planning that we get 30 inches in a 3-day event. Of this rain, some runs off, and some is retained or evaporates. For a typical residential, industrial, or open area, 20% to 60% of the rain might run off. Here, I will assume that 30% currently runs off to the Vermilion. For developed areas with significant impervious surface and sloped, compacted, and drained soil, 80% to 95% might run off. Here, I assume 85% runs off. So, 55% more of the rain is expected to run off after the project is completed. This is 16.5 inches (1.375 feet) of new runoff.

The total volume of added runoff is therefore 400 acres times 1.375 feet, or 550 acre-feet of water. Therefore, the pond needs to provide a storage volume of 550 acre-feet. If our retention pond has an average depth of 3 feet above the dry weather water level, then the pond must be 183.33 acres. Making room for shoreline and fence line (maybe even a jogging track), I assume the pond and related features will take up about 200 acres or 8.712 million square feet.  If square, this requires a property 2952 feet (0.56 miles) on each side.

Where in developed Lafayette can  we place such a feature? The pond must be downhill from the I-49 Connector to avoid the costs and uncertainties of pumping. Therefore, feasible placement of this pond is limited generally to the area between the roadway and the Vermilion channel. Further, any destruction of wetlands or residential areas should be avoided. Agricultural land might be an ideal choice, but we are unlikely to find such within the developed urban area within a feasible distance.

Thus, the question remains - How will we deal with increased flooding from the I-49 Connector? Will this be addressed by DOTD in their public meetings?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Impact of I-49 on the Lafayette Airport

Construction of any tall structures at the end of one of an airport runway is, at best, ill advised. Such structures inevitably increase risk of disaster. Allowing such construction by the I-49 Lafayette Connector project would give travelers the perception that Lafayette has a depreciated value for traveler safety. The Lafayette Airport Commissioners represent the public and are tasked with overseeing airport management and promoting the airport. It therefore seems remarkable that The Lafayette Airport Commission has not strenuously objected to plans to construct the elevated I-49 interstate on the airport boundary immediately at the end of one runway.

The 1975 Lafayette Regional Airport Master Plan Report concluded that conditions on the airport's periphery make any expansion difficult, or expensive, or both. The current plan to reroute Bayou Tortue, fill an area of wetlands within the Bayou's floodplain, and construct a runway extension on this unsupportive fill

  • will be an engineering challenge, 
  • will be environmentally destructive, 
  • will be very costly, and 
  • will be politically sensitive. 
The now-obsolete project EIS fails to evaluate or even consider these impacts.
from Lafayette Regional Airport Master Plan Report, 1975, page 11.

Social Injustice and the I-49 Connector Project reports that according to a report by Loyola University researchers "Louisiana dead last in U.S. social justice." This report dated March 18 2016 is available online at

How does the I-49 Connector fall within this pattern. Planning for the Connector has its roots in the 1960s, a time of very different social justice awareness.  At that time, the idea of urban renewal and improvement was often to simply destroy poor neighborhoods and displace residents to find alternative housing. Homelessness, increased poverty, and loss of community were often the result of this ill-conceived and uncaring strategy. Some urban interstate proponents actually considered the separation and division of communities as positive features of urban interstate divides.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Today, the social impacts of urban interstates are being recognized. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox is speaking out on this subject. See the April 29, 2016, article titled "Transportation Secretary: Interstate Highway System Targeted Black, Low-Income Neighborhoods"

Will the socially unjust I-49 Lafayette Connector be allowed. If the words of Secretary Foxx represent more than just words, this project will never be constructed.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Traffic Models Have Large Errors and Do Not Provide Reliable Projections

How much can we trust the traffic model projections for Lafayette? Read this Journal of the American Planning Assoc. article which finds: "... forecasters generally do a poor job of estimating the demand for transportation infrastructure projects. ... For half of all road projects, the difference between actual and forecasted traffic is more than ±20%. The result is substantial financial risks, which are typically ignored or downplayed by planners and decision makers to the detriment of social and economic welfare." 

Flyvbjerg, B., M. K. Skamris Holm, et al. (2005). "How (In)Accurate Are Demand Forecasts in Public Works Projects? The Case of Transportation." Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2).

During presentations to the community, our Louisiana DOTD has given dire projections of traffic problems that they predict will happen in 2040 if we do not capitulate to building the I-49 Connector through the heart of Lafayette. As pointed out in the JAPA article, there is great uncertainty associated with all such predictions. And, beyond the model error discussed in this professional journal article, other uncertainties complicate the projections for Lafayette:
  1. The model projections being presented to the community assume no tolls will be charged. Will the Connector charge tolls in 2040? We have been told on numerous occasions that tolls are likely the only feasible way to finance this project. Charging a toll will discourage use for local trips, and actually increase traffic on remaining surface city streets. 
  2. If the Connector is not built, what other highway improvements may happen prior to 2040? If the Connector concept is abandoned, it is likely that one of the proposed I-49 bypass routes will be developed. However, if the Connector is completed, it is unlikely Lafayette will see construction of a bypass by 2040.
  3. What improvements in transportation technology will occur over the next 25 years? The model assumes that in 2040 we will still be driving the same basic cars and trucks, carrying the same freight loads on trucks, and using the same traffic management systems that are in use today.
  4. What will Greater Lafayette's population be in 2040 and how will population centers change? The traffic model uses input demographic projections, and quality of the model output is no better than that of the input. We may believe that the trend of population growth south of Lafayette will continue unabated in future decades. However, realities of availability of suitably drained land, and future increases in flooding from the Vermilion and its tributaries may actually drive population growth north of the city. Really, only time will tell.
So, what does a wise investor do in the face of uncertainty? Certainly not construct the massively costly I-49 Lafayette Connector.

This post was based on an earlier Facebook post

Louisiana Could Assume Cleanup Liability from the Railroad Corporation

BOMBSHELL!!! Last night (April 28, 2016) following the Community Working Group meeting I learned from one-on-one discussion with Dr. Shawn Wilson, Secretary of Louisiana DOTD, that if the railroad is a willing seller of their abandoned rail yard then the current owner must clean it up or pay the state of Louisiana for the cleanup. HOWEVER, if the State expropriates the property, all cost of cleanup can fall to the taxpayer. This could relieve the responsible party of hundreds of millions in liability, and move it onto the public. A DOTD staff person confirmed this, and told me the state has already taken other contaminated property that is in I-49 Connector the right-of-way.

Now, if I were in the shoes of the railroad corporation or any of the other responsible parties who have cleanup liability, what would I do? It would certainly be in my self interest to just let the State of Louisiana take my land, pay me the estimated "fair market value," and enjoy total relief from all responsibility to clean up my own property and the property of property of my neighbors contaminated by migration of the waste.

  --Mike Waldon

This post is based on an earlier Facebook post available at

Friday, May 13, 2016

DOTD's Failure to Follow Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

Incoming Louisiana Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson assured
us that openness and inclusiveness will be important goals of DOTD
under his leadership (fast forward to time 6 minutes 12 seconds).

Since relaunching the I-49 Lafayette Connector project in October, open public comment has not been permitted at DOTD sponsored meetings. This action is in clear defiance of the spirit of open government. In the case of committee meetings which are convened to make recommendations or decisions, it is clearly illegal. In his defense, State Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson has noted that the public is allowed one-on-one access to DOTD employees and contractors, and further, can provide written comments in a process similar to a collective project suggestion box. While both of these actions by the DOTD may be considered laudable, the fact remains that the public is not allowed public communication with committees which are assigned advisory and decision-making roles.

What will it take to get our State Transportation Secretary to follow the law? If this behavior is allowed to set a precedent, all future public participation in Louisiana state and local government decision-making is in jeopardy.

Why is the public's criticism so frightening to Dr. Wilson? Perhaps it is because
  • of the overwhelming public support for a bypass rather than an urban interstate
  • of the DOTD's embarrassment at their failure to consider in all current and future planning any actual sampling or measurement of the toxics present in their proposed right-of-way
  • of lack of any assement of the impact of driving pilings into our sole-source water supply through toxic wastes potentially destroying our water supply with toxic contamination 
  • public health impacts from exposure to toxic construction-related dust containing asbestos, lead, and arsenic from decades of rail yard activities
  • of noise impacts on home values and use of outdoor spaces downtown, 
  • of noise and air pollutant impacts on downtown festivals
  • of air pollution from interstate traffic falling over our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods
  • of causing our city to fall into ozone non-compliance which could trigger annual auto tailpipe inspections and limits on future industrial expansion in the city 
  • of adding risks to air travelers as their airplanes must liftoff and land over the elevated interstate proposed to be constructed at the end of the Lafayette Airport runway, 
  • of flooding resulting from huge new paved impervious surfaces that are intended to drain to Bayou Vermilion with no attenuation,
  • of flooding and wetland loss caused by filling acres of wetland in order to extend the airport runway 
  • of what else
The EIS  performed by DOTD for this project was woefully inadequate and inaccurate when it was created. Further, it piecemealed impacts by breaking off the airport reconstruction into a separate study. And, still worse, over the past 15 years that EIS has not aged gracefully. New scientific finding and changes in regulations make this document virtually irrelevant today.

Could these observations be the reason Shawn Wilson wants to stifle public input and awareness? Are there other reasons that Dr. Wilson no longer supports public openness and inclusiveness at DOTD?

Relevant Articles and Editorials

The Advertiser, April 29, 2016, Some not happy I-49 meetings don't allow public discussion

The Advertiser, May 5, 2016, Editorial: Let us reason together

The Advertiser, May 10, 2016, Voices: I-49 'public comment' requires large open forums

The Advertiser, May11, 2016, Schoeffler: I-49 connector meetings have violated Louisiana law

The Advertiser, May12, 2016, Voices: Consider all options when building I-49 connector

Published resources regarding Louisiana's Open Meeting Laws

The Louisiana Attorney General provides an overview and opinion on the application of Louisiana's Open Meeting Laws

Other sources of publicly available information include -

The Louisiana Open Meeting Law is available from LSU

and at this Louisiana Legislative Auditor site$FILE/Open%20Meetings%20Law%20FAQ.pdf

ThePublic Affairs Research Council of Louisiana publishes a guide to Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

A document from 2009 on the Louisiana Culture Recreation and Tourism site describes 5 things you should know about Louisiana Open Meeting Laws

The Public Affairs Research Council in 2010 published this information on Louisiana's sunshine laws

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Flooding and Drainage Issuse Not Addressed by DOTD

This graph displays velocity of water flow in the Vermilion at the Surrey Street
Bridge. A large rain storm occurred on April 30-May 1. Negative velocity shown
in the graph indicates that the Vermilion was flowing upstream in response to
the storm.  

Lafayette Parish flooding will be increased along the Vermilion River and its tributaries by the Connector project.

A big rainstorm occurred in Lafayette beginning April 30, 2016. Look at this graph of Bayou Vermilion water velocity at Surrey Street - the negative velocity (up to 2 feet per second) means the Bayou is flowing backwards fast! This has important implications for flood control and planning in our community. Much of our flooding happens from water stacking up in the Bayou with no way to flow south. Drainage "improvements" bringing higher peak flows into the Bayou south of the city can raise the stage so much that this downstream water actually flows north and creates a "water dam." Now, coulees draining the storm water from city neighborhoods must either fill the Bayou to higher levels (stages), or back up with no outlet. Many flood planning computer models ignore this "backwater effect." That's OK in most other places in the US, but literally disastrous for flood planning in South Louisiana. 

Video: Backwater in Coulee Mine Branch, Lafayette, La.

NOW - What action do you need to take? When planners for new projects say they have done careful computer analysis and determined that no new flooding will result from their project be very skeptical. Ask if they took backwater flooding into account for both their project near and upstream of their project. You will likely be met with ignorance, arrogance, and condescension, but do persevere. What projects? Well the I-49 Connector comes to mind.

AND - What analysis of flooding impacts did DOTD provide in their 2002 EIS for the I-49 Connector? Basically nothing. Their plan is to provide the very efficient drainage required by interstates, and route the water to the Vermilion either directly, through existing drainage structures, or using very large pumps. No accounting for flood impacts from this massive increase in impervious surface is even attempted. No proposals have been made to build stormwater retention/detention basins for the project. In the EIS, no consideration was given to the residential and street flooding that will result from the project. It is likely we will experience heavy rain during hurricane evacuation, and this planning deficiency is all the more alarming when hurricane evacuation is considered. 

There is a history of DOTD flood and drainage design along US-90 and I-49. During a heavy rain event in 2001, cars went underwater on Hwy 90 east of Broussard where Hwy 92 crosses US-90. Cars had to be routed over to the Teche Ridge area on Hwy 31. In the April 30 - May 1 rain storm The Advertiser (1) reported rainfall of over 10 inches. While this is large, Louisiana at times receives over 20 inches of rain in a day. Occurrence of flooding of the I-49 roadway just north of Lafayette is an alarming sign that the I-49 corridor is not well designed for hurricane or flood evacuation.

Photo: The Advertiser (1).

Further, some DOTD plans for the I-49 Connector call for excavating underpasses or even depressing large parts of the interstate roadway itself. As local citizens know all-too-well, below grade underpasses in South Louisiana have a problematic history (2). Reliance on large pumps makes travel during heavy rain events reliant on maintaining electric power at the pump stations (assuming electric pumps are used), or reliability of diesel-driven pumps and fuel delivery (if diesel power is selected).

1. The Advertiser, May 2, 2016, Flooding Sunday some of the worst seen in years
2. KLFY, March 18, 2016, University Ave underpass near Cameron St OPEN after flooding