Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Letters: So many reasons to forsake I-49 project, so why would we risk this?

 The following Letter to the Editor appeared in the The Advocate on August 11, 2020.

So many reasons to forsake I-49 project, so why would we risk this?

Once again, the Department of Transportation and Development is attempting to move forward with the Lafayette Interstate 49 Connector project. The Connector is unlikely to ever become a reality for the following reasons:

The project lacks public support and has been opposed for over 30 years by hundreds of citizens and the victims who will lose their homes, jobs, businesses, churches and other community assets. This opposition has been well-voiced in public hearings, meetings and lawsuits.

It has an overabundance of prohibitively expensive problems due to its proximity to the railroad, downtown Lafayette and the airport. These issues bring the price to at least $300 million to 400 million per mile, which far exceeds the normal funding for interstate highways.

The path of this highway takes it through the abandoned, highly contaminated Union Pacific rail yard. It has been declared so by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Environmental Quality and federal courts. Litigation seeks to hold Union Pacific accountable for the cleanup. This suit and the clean-up must be completed before the connector can be built.

Its cost could be as much as $2 billion and could take decades to complete. Louisiana DOTD attorneys declared in the federal citizens’ suit against the project that the proposed pathway for the connector is the only feasible route, which was upheld by the court’s ruling. This creates a Catch-22 whereby more cost-effective routes are not considered.

The footprint of the proposed connector lies above the Chicot aquifer, Lafayette’s water source. Contamination has already been observed in our aquifer. Driving elevated roadway pilings through the rail yard and into our aquifer without a thorough cleanup would endanger our precious water supply.

The 20-year-old Environmental Impact Study required by federal law is significantly outdated, far exceeding the three-year life of an EIS. The attempt to supplement this outdated EIS is a waste of time and money. A new EIS is required because of passage of time, new significant environmental information and major changes in the Record of Decision, all of which apply to this project.

We are outraged that the DOTD continues to spend millions in taxpayer money on a project that is too expensive, destroys community, jobs, homes and businesses, reduces property tax revenue, increases traffic on city streets, and endangers drinking water, air quality and Bayou Vermilion. The public has been wise in opposing this project for the past 30 years.

When confronted with public opposition, engineering obstacles and high cost, other states have revised planned interstate corridors and created urban bypasses. Why not in Lafayette?


chairman, Acadian Group, Sierra Club


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Meetings Announced by DOTD Will Again Suggest Design Revisions

For over two decades LaDOTD has been revising designs for their "I-49 Connector" in Lafayette. Each new design that has been presented has fallen to design flaws, impracticality, legal challenge, and/or extreme public opposition.  Once again, the LaDOTD Lafayette I-49 Connector is returning to make renewed plans for building their urban interstate through the heart of Lafayette. Two online meetings of the LCAG (I believe this is the Lafayette Connector Advisory Group) are planned:
  • Tuesday, July 28, 2020, 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm: An Introduction to Bridge Design and Construction. Focus will be on the Mainline Structural Viaduct Type Alternatives, the Evaluation Criteria and Evaluation Process conducted to date, and other opportunities to improve structural components with the CSS (Context Sensitive Solutions) process
  • Thursday, July 30, 2020, 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm: Working Session utilizing breakout Focus Groups and a summary round table to further discuss structural concepts and alternatives introduced in the Tuesday LCAG Meeting. The breakout Focus Groups will discuss the Mainline Structural Viaduct Types and their detailed characteristics including such things as scale, constructibility, cost, and long-term operations and maintenance; and other CSS Structural Considerations such as abutment walls, piers, retaining walls, and railings.These focus groups will report back the results of their discussion, evaluation,and preferences.  Consensus will be developed on LCAG conclusions/preferences for report out to the Partner Agency and Executive Committee, at future meetings.
The Louisiana Open Meeting Law requires that the public be given a reasonable opportunity to speak at advisory committee meetings. However, as with past LaDOTD sponsored I-49 Connector committee meetings, no public input will be allowed. The I-49 Connector website states:
This is a committee working meeting, but if members of the public would like to attend in a listen-only manner, please email to request the Online Meeting access information.
Although I will have no opportunity to comment, I do plan to view the meeting. As described above, I have emailed my request for this meeting information, and I urge all interested citizens to also make this request and observe the meeting.
CSS Project Map
CSS Map I-49 Lafayette Connector


Monday, June 22, 2020

Ozone and the I-49 Connector: Why should we care?

DOTD I-49 Urban Route.
Recent local news articles on KATC and in The Acadiana Advocate  reported an LDEQ warning that on June 19 Lafayette would have high levels of ozone. LDEQ declared an Ozone Action Day for Lafayette. Why should we care about ozone?

First, high ozone levels are a risk to health, particularly among our most vulnerable citizens. Those who work or exercise outdoors are also at risk.  

Second, Lafayette has in the past been close to non-attainment for ozone, while Baton Rouge has been out of compliance. Currently all of Louisiana is considered to be in compliance with the federal standard of 70 parts-per-billion for ozone. Lafayette air pollution has improved, but there are continuing calls to make the ozone standard more protective. Non-attainment matters to Lafayette's future economic growth which could be impacted by restrictions and new requirements placed on any industry wanting to locate here. Beyond that, the most sought after companies looking for a new location are far less likely to choose a city with recognized poor air quality. Bottom line: our current good air quality is a plus for Lafayette to recruit new economic development. 

Finally, what has ozone got to do with the I-49 Connector? If you listen to Louisiana DOTD and their consultants who are writing the I-49 Environmental Impact Statement you might think ozone and air pollution have nothing to do with their plan. But, our biggest source of ozone in Lafayette is from cars. Common sense tells us that the proposed elevated interstate through the heart of our city is going to concentrate heavy traffic on city streets that lead to and from the interstate. Further, much local traffic will avoid using the elevated highway because of its limited points of access and exit. Those cars and trucks will be forced to sit in traffic on city streets. And, if the Connector has tolls, expect even more traffic forced down to city streets. Expect troubling increases in ground level ozone.

LRX Bypass Corridor Options (DOTD)
This doesn't have to happen! The proposed Lafayette Metro eXpressway (LRX) would allow through traffic and hazardous cargo to bypass the central city. For almost two decades we the taxpayers have funded planning for the LRX bypass. It is time to act and choose this alternative. The LRX would draw traffic away from easily congested urban streets and save local tax monies as city street expansions are no longer needed. The LRX would improve rather than worsen ozone pollution in Lafayette. If the I-49 Connector is built, we will be stuck with its induced traffic congestion and resulting bad air in our city for decades. Let's just not go there!