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.