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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Join me in opposition. Sign the petition at

  3. How many hypotheticals can you bundle into one article? There are also several extrapolations based on the hypotheticals. So what if there is a toll? $1 each way? Free would be better but asking people to pay for a convenience instead of being fiscally irresponsible is a much better option. Let the voters decide... Besides, most commuters don't use the route. Most come down west congress and johnston street and from the east. Not nearly as many local commuters go from the airport to I-10/Evangeline Thruway. Those that do who don't want to pay a buck can exit at Pinhook or Willow. Or they can take public transportation. What would really be super is IF we unite and help get the cut & cover option nuit then a LOT more housing will be developed and redeveloped in and around downtown... Then they can just ride their bike to work😊 Much better. Just get rid of the/a car. OR... We could push for a TOT. Truck only toll. Large trucks and 18 wheelers are THE vehicle that damage roads so much causing the need for repairs. Coming through lafayette will save their companies money. Certainly they will save $5 or more dollars versus running the gauntlet through Baton Rouge AND the Atchafalaya bridge. Maybe just maybe citizens of lafayette and acadiana get a price break like in MANY other cities by purchasing a toll tag. Maybe $500 becomes $250??? As with anything there are a lot of possibilities... A person can believe the worst case scenario and bemoan the possible problems and decry what might be... Or they can be aware and be concerned and ACT to positively affect change in their community in a way that benefits everyone and unite and comprise with others to seek a solution. We need new jobs. We need new development. We need to fix the EXISTING rift along the evenagekine thruway AND the environmental problems... The new interstate can help us do that and a lot more. And by the way... A cut & cover interstate design will also generate over (projected based on use of standardized best practices) $350 million in tax revenues over 20 years. This is also not mentioned.

    1. I give references for the 18 to 19 cents per mile which seems to be common. For 5.5 miles you get $0.99 to $1.045, about a dollar each way. Not a hypothetical dollar but a very real dollar out of our pockets. I am not the only one saying tolls are likely - the former head of One Acadiana's I-49 South Coalition said it, and a former Louisiana Secretary of Transportation said it. DOTD refuses to discuss how this Connector project will be funded and blocks any attempt to bring it up. Tolls are the likely answer for at least a portion of the funding, but that fact must be suppressed because it might bring even more public outcry. If you want to see hypotheticals stacked to Fantacyland levels, look at the plans coming from DOTD and TIGER (now ECI). How hypothetical can you get when you just say that the toxic waste can just be hauled away for the depressed roadway. LDEQ already called this economically and environmentally infeasible. DOTD refuses to even budget the relatively small amount of money to sample and characterize the toxic site. They prefer Fantacyland where anything can be sold to the public and the federal tax dollars keep rolling through. So, where are the hypotheticals?

    2. The Connector will be funded in the same way that many other Louisiana major highway projects are funded: through public Federal and State funds. (With assistance from local funds and grants as needed through LCG and ECI.) As part of the overall I-49 South project, it will utimately get its share of the funding pie.

      As for tolls...I don't see the Connector being funded through tolling, because of both the potential public opposition to double taxation that tolls would bring and the impracticality of imposing toll booths or electronic tolling onto the project without fear of people "shunpiking" the freeway by using the existing Evangeline Thruway. Other portions of I-49 South may be more likely candidates for tolling, but I can't see the Connector segment being one of them. Also, DOTD has put the Connector project as their #1 priority on their "megaprojects" list (not just on their "Priority A" list, but at the top of that list). In addition, LADOTD has said that megaprojects like the Connector should be fully funded with tolling *only as a last resort*, if at all. That would indicate that they do not plan on any tolls on the Connector at all.

      A further note: I'd love for Mike to cite the source at LADEQ which stated that the former SP railyard site couldn't be cleaned up and its contaminated soils not removed and remediated. Would he prefer that the site not be cleaned up at all, and the further contamination continue while he goes about riding his beloved Teche Ridge bypass?

      Finally, it should be noted that the reason a detailed survey of the SP railyard site hasn't been done was for two reasons: 1) A previous Stage 1 study of the site had already been done, and portions of the site had already been remediated to an industrial level; and 2) the corridor had not been set to pass through that particular site. With the corridor now set in stone, and considering the plans by LCG and ECI to redevelop the area, there is no doubt that there will be a full and complete remediation of the faciity. Again, that's not conjecture or Fantasyland; that's FEDERAL and STATE LAW.

  4. Another reason why I'm not buying the toll argument: LADOTD performed a study in 2014 on whether or not tolls could properly fund the entire I-49 South project from Lafayette to New Orleans. They found that even in the most aggressive concept of tolling the entire length of the project, tolls would at most pay for 43% of the costs of the upgrade, and that the segment that would "pack the most punch" for tolling would be the already completed segment of US 90 from Morgan City to Raceland. Slapping tolls on already completed "free" highways is politically lethal here in Louisiana. Plus, since I-49 from Shreveport north to the Arkansas line was built as a "free" facility with public funds, there's really no reason the Connector couldn't be built as "free" as well.

    And, there's a bit of hypocrisy in screaming how the Connector will never be built without tolls, while pushing the LRX, which is explictly being built as a toll faciity (and far more expensive than the Connector, too), and Teche Ridge, which would probably have to be built as one as well.