Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The I-49 Boondoggles

What is a BOONDOGGLE? Wikipedia tells us it refers to
projects involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure, where at some point, the key operators, having realized that the project will never work, are still reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors.  
Public opposition to routing I-49 through the heart of our city goes back at least to 1992, and for years now, Lafayette residents have recognized that the government project now being called the Lafayette I-49 Connector (we call it the I-49 Con) is a prime example of a wasteful government boondoggle (for an example of public comment read "Why the I-49 connector won't work" published May 27, 2016 in the Daily Advertiser). The public has been assured many times that if there is significant public opposition to the project it will never be built. Yet, the I-49 Con continues spending tens of millions of tax dollars on studies and design that will never be used for a footprint through the heart of the Lafayette.

Sarah Palin holding Nowhere Alaska t-shirt
Sarah Palin holding a T-shirt related to the Gravina Island Bridge.
Credit: Bob Weinstein via Wikimedia
Regardless of how wasteful the project, politicians from both sides of the aisle often find it hard to oppose tax funded boondoggles. Perhaps this is because of the inevitable cycling back of a percentage of the money into campaign contributions. Even some of the most conservative politicians seem unable to pass up wasteful government boondoggle projects. Do you recall the support of Sarah Palin for federal funding of the Gravina Island Bridge commonly referred to as the iconic "Bridge to Nowhere?"

The national Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) published their 2018 list of US interstate highway boondoggle projects. If built as proposed, these boondoggles would waste tens of billions of our federal transportation tax dollars. And, even if these boondoggles are never built, billions will be spent on their planning and design before public pressure and simple rationality end their useless authorizations.

Although our own local boondoggle, the I-49 Con, did not make the USPIRG list this year, its sister project in Shreveport, the Shreveport I-49 Inner City Connection did make 2018's national list of worst boondoggles. Better luck next year to our own I-49 Con! If USPIRG accepts nominations in 2019 the I-49 Con will have my vote.

It is important that our political representatives hear from their voters about stopping these federal transportation boondoggles. If we don't speak up the only voices our leaders hear come from paid lobbyists representing the corporations and contractors who are hoping to continue getting design and construction contracts.

We do know that at least some of our leaders are hearing us. On October 17, 2018, One Acadiana hosted a 3rd Congressional District Candidate Forum. All seven remaining congressional candidates running in the November 6 general election participated in the forum:

Several of the candidates spoke to the forum in general terms about our need for improved infrastructure and the need to eliminate wasteful federal spending. However, two candidates spoke directly about problems with routing I-49 through the center of Lafayette. Congressman Clay Higgins noted that routing the interstate footprint through the central city would displace or impact a large number of private property owners. He concluded that an actual footprint for the project still needs to be selected. Candidate Mimi Methvin cited further problems with the central city route including its planned passage through the highly contaminated former railyard site. Furthermore, she noted that today urban experts and planners recognize urban blight in many US cities has been caused by the past construction of inner-city interstates.

Do you agree that the Lafayette I-49 Con is one more federal boondoggle currently wasting many tens of millions of tax dollars on design of a route through the heart of our city? Do you agree that, as now planned, the I-49 Con should never and likely will never be built?

If your answer is yes, I urge you to contact your chosen 3rd district candidate. Tell him/her of your opposition to the currently proposed central I-49 route. Ask your candidate to support planning for one of the much less costly and less damaging alternatives bypassing Lafayette to the east along the Teche Ridge or west following the plan for the Lafayette Regional eXpressway (LRX). In addition to saving federal and state taxes, either alternative also involves much lower cost to our local governments, reduces risks to property and health, and eliminates most impacts to flooding and traffic congestion inherent in the I-49 Con planned route through the heart our city.

Mike Waldon, PhD
October 23, 2018