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


  1. Where does this bypass go north of I-10?

    1. The plan is to continue north from I-10 and connect with I-49 north of Carencro. You can see this in the inset on the Teche Ridge Bypass Facebook page. The link to that page is near the bottom of the original post.

  2. This is the best answer to Our travel woes in Acadiana! Get on Board!

  3. Actually?? No, it's not.

    For starters, the recent upgrades of US 90 make Teche Ridge obselete. The widening to six lanes in each direction, the current construction of the Albertson Parkway/St. Nazaire Road overpass and upgrade of the Billeaud Overpass of LA 182 and the BNSF Railway line, along with the scheduled interchanges at South Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Young Street, and Verot School Road, effectively render Teche Ridge as toothless as an alternative to the Evangeline Thruway/US 90 corridor in directing traffic through Lafayette to connect with existing I-49 and I-10.

    Secondly? Most traffic on the US 90/Evangeline Thruway/I-49 North corridor has its destinations and orgins within Lafayette, essentially downtown, ULL, Lafayette Regional Airport, and the many petrochemical businesses within US 90, especially near Broussard and Youngsville. An upgrade of US 90 combined with the Connector freeway directly meets those travel needs; Teche Ridge simply DOES NOT.

    Less expensive?? It may seem that way, but reality says?? When St. Martin Parish threw out their rudimentary "study" on Teche Ridge (funded by profits from St. Martin Parish casinos, BTW); DOTD did their own rudimentary analysis and found that the actual cost of Teche Ridge in 2003 US$ was closer to $601 million, not the $400 million claimed by Teche Ridge proponents. That was at the time roughly equal to the combined costs of both the Connector Selected Alternative and the US 90 freeway upgrade from LRA to LA 88. And, that cost didn't even include the needed upgrades to US 90 that would still be necessary if Teche Ridge was implemented.

    Then there is the notion that if the Teche Ridge bypass was built, the money "saved" could be used to convert Evangeline Thruway into a Complete Streets boulevard with urban features to placate the neighborhoods. Problem is, Teche Ridge would not attract enough traffic from the Thruway to allow for downgrading it from its current 2x3lane couplet. Also, shifting I-49 from the Connector/US 90 corridor would require major changes to the MPO and LADOTD transportation plans and the Federal High Priority Corridor legislation; all of which are keyed on I-49 South going through Lafayette through the Connector freeway and US 90.

    Finally, Teche Ridge isn't so innocent when it comes to environmental and social impacts, either. It would cross numerous sugar cane fields and other forms of prime farmland in its swing around Cypress Swamp and Lake Martin. It would cross a strategic flyway for wildlife migrating south and north. It would introduce the possibility of hazardous runoff into the Bayou Teche basin. (Bayou Teche is a designated Scenic Waterway, protected by state law.) The northern portion would require a lenghty elevated crossing of the Vermilion River basin, possibly endangering more wetlands than even the Connector would. And, there is the issue of how and where exactly you would connect the termini of Teche Ridge with I-49 and I-10. If you want to sync Teche Ridge with the proposed Lafayette Regional eXpressway to ultimately create a full loop around Lafayette, your choices are limited.

    Now, you could cut costs by terminating Teche Ridge at I-10 near Breaux Bridge and then have traffic use I-10 west to the current I-49/I-10/US 167 interchange. You could...but that would discourage the use of Teche Ridge even more since the advantage of a "bypass" would be even less; and I-10, even with its planned widening to 2x3 from 2x2, is already backed up as is from its own traffic to add more.

    Sorry, bur less expensive is not necessarily more value. Teche Ridge Bypass is like a facade that looks nice, but only masks a rotted broken foundation. As part of a full LRX loop, it may be feasible. As a replacement for the Connector/I-49 South?? Not. Even. Close.

  4. It seems now that proponents of Teche Ridge are now solidifying on an combination of that bypass alternative and a supposed conversion of the existing Evangeline Thruway into a "high-speed" boulevard as the cure-all for all the alleged problems of the Connector freeway proposal.

    Problem for them is, though, that it is still insufficient.

    First, the claim is that the Teche Ridge alternative will remove enough traffic from the Thruway to make it serviceable to its users as is or even reduce it to a 4-lane boulevard. Now, all of a sudden, they say that the boulevard as an surface "high-speed" facility will by itself handle the current and proposed traffic on the Thruway? Something's not quite right here.

    The Thruway as a 2x3 one-way couplet/at-grade expressway is already greatly compromised handling the existing traffic as is. It has already been established that no bypass alternative (whether Teche Ridge, the LRX, or any other) will remove enough significant traffic from the Thruway to warrant even reducing it to 2x2 lanes, even if converted into an urban boulevard and redeveloped for local businesses.

    Secondly...retaining the Thruway as a surface/at-grade faciity will not resolve the fundamental issue of it's divisiveness for pedestrian/bicycle/alternative traffic, unless the Connector freeway is built as well. If anything, it is the Connector that will serve the best purpose of a "bypass" in diverting much of the heaviest traffic from the existing Thruway, while allowing for the latter to be retooled to be more neighborhood- and alternative transport-friendly.

    Third....a surface boulevard as a standalone replacement for the Connector freeway is fundamentally incompatible with the purpose of completing I-49 South through Lafayette, especially considering the now ongoing improvements to US 90 south of Lafayette. Why build interchanges on Albertsons' Parkway and South Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Youngsville Parkway, and Verot School Road, and widen the US 90 mainline to 6 lanes all the way to LA 88, only to have traffic plow through traffic lights to get to I-10/existing I-49? Breezwood doesn't work in Pennsylvania, and it won't work in Lafayette, either.

    Then, there is the added expense of building this standalone boulevard. Would it be built before or after Teche Ridge is completed? What about the displacements of residents/businesses along the southbound Thruway as it is converted into this "urban high-speed boulevard"?

    Finally, there is the belief that because many cities have downgraded segments of elevated highways to surface boulevards for local economic development, that would be appropriate for Lafayette. Problem is with that? Most of those downgraded freeways weren't major through routes, and none of them have had the kind of intensive study for neighborhood connectivity and urban design that the Connector has had or is getting right now. Contrary to popular New Urbanist myth, it is actually possible to create elevated viaducts that don't destroy an urban setting; or, alternative freeway designs such as depressed or covered options are available to mitigate the impacts.

    I stand by my view that the Connector freeway with the improvements and refinements proposed by the Evangeline Corridor Initiative, combined with urbanized improvements to the Evangeline Thruway, remains the best, most cost-efficient, and most viable option for completing I-49 through Lafayette. The concerns expressed on this blog are legitimate concerns that deserve fair hearing and analysis, but they are not as irrevocably resolvable as Michael suggests.

  5. Someone posted a Facebook comment on the I-49 Teche Ridge page saying that it was wrong to say that Teche Ridge Bypass would affect wetlands of Cypress Swamp and Lake Martin; because the bypass would use an old railroad line along the foot of the Teche-Coteau Ridge just west of LA 31 for most of its length.

    That would be pretty interesting, since that rail line has long since been abandoned and its ROW sold back to private interests....mostly sugar cane and soybean farmers. There's no indication of the rail line even existing even on Google Maps.

    In any case, it does not invalidate my belief that Teche Ridge would still have major impacts to the Cypress Swamp, even if most of it runs to the east along the ridge. The runoff from the highway would ultimately flow into both Cypress Swamp and Bayou Teche, which are sensitive tributaries. The possibility of induced commercial and residential development around interchanges near St, Martinville, Parks, and Breaux Bridge could potentially intrude into even more sensitive wetlands. Also, some portion of Teche Ridge would ultimately have to cross over some portions of swampland in order to get to at least I-10, if not cross the Vermilion River basin north of I-10 to ultimately reach I-49 North near Carencro.

    In addition, the most recent cost estimates for the Connector freeway concepts now under discussion are in; and while the proposed Cut-and-Cover concept is as excessively expensive as advertised, the Elevated concept is actually cheaper and less disruptive than even the alternative approved in 2003. All in all, it looks like a wash in cost between Teche Ridge plus "boulevard" and the Elevated with Signature Bridge and Boulevard. Given the superior advantages the Connector has; I'd say that pretty much resolves the debate in my view.