Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Secretary Pete: Put an immediate stop to the I-49 Lafayette Connector

Lafayette resident Ann Burruss sent the following letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg with copies to our Louisiana Governor, Lafayette Mayor, and Louisiana Transportation Secretary. The photos in this letter were taken by Ann earlier this month at the DOTD I-49 Open House poster presentation. 

If you feel strongly about the Lafayette I-49 Connector, you too can voice your opinion to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation by sending a letter to: The Honorable Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20590. You may also email the secretary at  DOTExecSec@dot.gov.


Louisiana State Project No:  H.004273.5
Federal Aid Project No.:   H004273
Secretary Buttigieg, November 17, 2021

Congratulations to you and to the Biden administration for passing the infrastructure bill. In my volunteer work for Second Harvest Food Bank in Louisiana, I drive on substandard roads in rural parishes and I know what this bill can mean for struggling workers who commute on bad roads and bridges. Thank you for putting the needs of working people first.

I am writing today to ask that you put an immediate stop to the federal highway project called the I-49 Lafayette Connector in Louisiana. While promoting the infrastructure bill the administration talks about racial justice and equity as driving factors in projects.  Extending I-49 through the center of the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, is the exact opposite of that goal.  The planned route replaces a surface road with an elevated interstate. It’s like the 1960s and 70s all over again! As if we have learned nothing about the damage -- the permanent dismemberment -- that an interstate highway does to a city.  The I-49 Connector is racially unjust. It cements a redline through our city. It divides historically black communities from the prosperous downtown. We know better than we did in the 60s and 70s. We must do better.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and their consultants held a series of sparsely attended open houses here recently.  They never ask the public ‘Do you want this interstate?  Do you need this interstate? If you need an interstate, where do you want it routed?’  It's always, ‘Do you like this lighting feature or that lighting feature? Do you want your children to be able to bike under this fabulous interstate, or do you want them to play basketball?’ I say “Neither.”

I and many informed citizens want this interstate to Not Be Built Here.  Instead, we want to see the LRX (Lafayette Regional Xpressway) built. The LRX will provide the first half of a loop highway around our city.  If this western loop portion proves useful and well-traveled, then an eastern portion could be built as an interstate through St. Martin Parish where they are willing and even eager to have a highway there.  The LDOT will say that an eastern highway ‘on the Teche Ridge’ can’t be built because of wetland impact - and they are correct that wetlands mustn't be harmed because of their flood storage capacity and natural value. However, the Teche Ridge isn’t the only possible eastern route. Wetlands can be avoided. Please investigate and authorize these routes in lieu of the I-49 connector.

US Census data shows that from 2010 to 2020, the population of the parishes that the I-49 Connector is supposed to serve has dropped by 15%.  The cost-benefit study for the I-49 Connector is very suspicious. How could it possibly have shown a positive cost for a highway to a rapidly depopulating area, an area that is losing its economic engine which is oil and gas production from which we must rapidly decarbonize? Accelerating coastal land loss will cause roads and highways south of Lafayette to face the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the elevated route of this highway goes through a contaminated railyard and over our drinking water aquifer.

There is no reason to continue work on running I-49 through our city.  Please quickly authorize more affordable and supportable projects to the east or west of the beautiful city of Lafayette, Louisiana, my home. Thank you.


Ann Burruss
110 Seville Blvd
Lafayette, LA 70503

Governor Edwards, by email
Secretary Wilson, by email
Mayor Guillory, by email

In addition to asking what kind of lights we like, the LDOT renderings add in new buildings along the route, as if prime real estate and good jobs appear right alongside interstates.  They don’t.  At best you get gas stations and storage unit facilities.  Please consider promulgating rules to prevent fanciful projections in renderings.  All transportation departments should show only exactly what they propose to build.

Do you want your children to walk, play or bike under an interstate highway?  I have never seen these activities happen under interstates anywhere in our country because parents know better.  Under an interstate is air pollution, soil pollution, noise pollution and danger from falling objects.  Diseases like asthma, chronic stress and depression from sleep disturbance will develop in nearby populations. Please don't visit these traumas on more of our people.

Photographs from posters presented by LDOT and consultants at the November 2021 open house series in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Comment: The Lafayette Connector project has failed to meet federal requirements for public involvement and environmental justice


Mike Waldon 
Mon, Nov 15, 2021 at 3:56 PM
To: comment@lafayetteconnector.com
Cc: Josh Guillory, Charles Bolinger, Shawn Wilson, Monique Boulet, Tim Nickel, Col. Greg Ellison, Andy Naquin, Glenn Lazard, Liz Hebert, Nanette Cook, Patrick Lewis, Abraham Rubin Jr., Bryan Tabor, John J. Guilbeau, Joshua Carlson, Kevin Naquin

DOTD I-49 Open House

Subject: Comment for November 4, 2021 event transcript - Failure to address contamination and environmental justice

This is my public comment following the event that was called a "public meeting" held on November 4, 2021. I ask that my comment be included in its entirety in the public meeting transcript and the record of Lafayette I-49 Connector project comments.

It is misleading for the meeting transcript to call this a public meeting.  As with your previous meetings, the public was given no opportunity to openly provide comments or feedback. Simply providing an email address and comment cards is not adequate. This event would more accurately be called a poster session. 

This and other meetings held by the Lafayette Connector project fails to meet state open meeting law requirements (see my comment submitted October 19, 2017), and federal requirements for public involvement (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/public_involvement/orders/#a9).In the future, I urge the Lafayette Connector management team to follow not only the statutory and regulatory requirements for public involvement, but to also sincerely follow the spirit of open involvement on which these requirements were based.

This proposed state/federal urban interstate project completely ignores the issues of social justice, environmental justice, risk of severe health impacts on the predominantly disadvantaged community, and damage to property caused by spreading of toxic contaminants. This is in clear violation of federal requirements for public involvement. This project is in violation of Executive Order 12898, and the federal FHWA's published public involvement requirement to "assure that possible adverse economic, social, and environmental effects relating to any proposed project on any Federal-aid system have been fully considered."

Specifically, a large part of the proposed corridor of this project is heavily contaminated or likely to have contamination of soil and groundwater. This fact has been established in past court proceedings. However, the full spatial extent of contamination has never been publicly disclosed, and is likely unknown. Data and reports in possession of the Louisiana DOTD have been declared confidential by DOTD leaving the public ignorant of potential health risks that DOTD already knows about, or should know about after more than 30 years of floundering through design after design of this anachronistic project while avoiding knowledge of the risk and cost. 

Long ago when I was studying to be an environmental engineer, I recall learning that the first thing to do when considering working with a contaminated site is to determine the spatial extent of the contamination. After decades, the Connector project planners either have not made the determination of spatial toxic extent in the project corridor, or are not disclosing it to the at-risk public. In either case, this failure clearly violates federal policy including environmental justice requirements

We, the public, do have enough information about toxic contamination in the project corridor to know that it is an extremely serious risk. Indeed, neighbors of the railyard have sued seeking cleanup. We know that operating construction machinery over land contaminated with asbestos, arsenic, and lead risks spreading toxic dust through neighboring homes and businesses. If you want to give us poster sessions on your plans, show us how you will work in this toxic environment without further exposing us to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals through air, surface water, groundwater, and drinking water.

Likely, for over a century, contaminants have been eroded and followed drainage along Evangeline Throughway contaminating much of the surface soil in the corridor. Other contaminants have surely moved through the surficial aquifer under surrounding homes and businesses. It is known that the contaminants from the railyard migrated through groundwater off-site because Lafayette city/parish workers found and reported visible contamination off site near the railyard. 

We do not know the extent of migration of the contaminants from the contaminated railyard and other contaminated sites along the proposed route. However, we do know that in Houston a similar railyard has had significant off-property migration. Further, the State of Texas has confirmed that this contamination is coincident with cancer clusters in neighboring communities. 

The impact of the Lafayette Connector project on air and water toxic migration is vitally important to our community. The impact of toxic migration on design and construction of the Connector is vitally important to taxpayers who are paying for this project. A cleanup plan must be proposed for this project and must be disclosed to the at-risk public for public review and comment. This is not only a regulatory requirement, it is a moral and ethical requirement for those promoting this project. 

Finally, I address the engineers working on this project. How can you propose a project while remaining willfully ignorant of environmental consequences of your proposed actions on the surrounding community and construction workers? Every engineer  is ethically required to give protection of human life and property the highest priority. Doesn't the sequencing and planning of the I-49 Lafayette Connector project to-date breach your professional engineering ethical boundaries?

I am submitting these comments via email to comment@lafayetteconnector.com. I am also copying some interested members of the community, members of the I-49 Connector Executive Committee, and our City and Parish Council members. I will also send these comments in a separate message to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

Thank you for considering my comments.

Michael G. Waldon, Ph.D.
110 Seville Blvd 
Lafayette, LA 70503 
337-852-3668, email: mike@mwaldon.com
November 15, 2021

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Restoring NEPA procedures to protect the public and taxpayers

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the law that ensures that you can have a voice in federal decisions. During the previous administration, changes were made to the way NEPA is implemented. These changes were intended to streamline the process and allow federal projects to be approved more quickly. Although a goal of speeding up federal bureaucracy is laudable, the streamlining was at the expense of public scrutiny rather than streamlining the internal working of government agencies and contractors. Currently, there is a Phase I proposal that would begin to restore the right of the public to be involved. This proposed rulemaking is available for public comment until November 22, 2021. Yesterday, I submitted the following comments.

National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations Revisions

Public Comment

Agency name: Council on Environmental Quality

Docket number, CEQ-2021-0002

Commenter: Michael G. Waldon, Lafayette, Louisiana

NEPA is not just an environmental law, it is a GOOD GOVERNMENT law. NEPA requires that federal agencies think before they act and allow the public to critically review proposed actions. I am submitting this comment to support CEQ’s proposed phase 1 rules. Furthermore, I ask that CEQ quickly initiate phase 2 rulemaking with robust public involvement so that NEPA is fully restored. 

Public review and comment are essential safeguards against wasteful, harmful, and ill-conceived large government projects. For years, NEPA protected public health and the environment. But, that is not all. By allowing the public to examine proposed plans and designs, citizens have exposed deficiencies and errors before they became costly mistakes. NEPA has saved government agencies from making huge costly blunders.

I am commenting as an individual, but I am a member of my local Sierra Club and the Y-49 group in Lafayette who oppose construction of a new urban section of I-49 through the heart of our city. Additionally, I participate in the Louisiana Four Corners Coalition which is seeking reform of Louisiana transportation decision-making through increased public scrutiny and input. Here, I illustrate the importance of NEPA with two examples from these citizen groups and my own experience. 

My first example shows how NEPA procedures can raise awareness of risks associated with proposed projects. As a retired environmental engineer, I first became alarmed about the public health and financial risks of the proposed Lafayette I-49 urban interstate project. This project has been opposed for decades by local citizens and citizen groups. As part of a developing supplemental environmental impact statement, the Louisiana DOTD contractors revised the design and proposed constructing an elevated interstate over a federally recognized and un-remediated hazardous chemical site that is just over a thousand feet from Lafayette municipal drinking water wells. The elevated roadway would be supported on pilings that extend deep into our city’s drinking water aquifer. This project not only endangers our drinking water source, but could also move financial liability from the potentially responsible party to the taxpayers. We continue to oppose this dangerous and ill-conceived plan through NEPA mandated public input.

My second example involves an apparent design error that came to light during NEPA mandated public review. While reviewing the I-49 proposed urban interstate plan I became alarmed by the roadway design which proposed constructing an elevated overpass interchange with University Avenue flying over I-49 at the edge of our Lafayette airport. This tall structure was going to be positioned just past the end of one of our city’s runways. The EIS wanted to fill an area of wetland and shift the runway a few hundred feet east in order to meet FAA safety requirements. This small shift just didn’t seem sufficiently safe to me, so I did my own calculation using FAA guidance to see how far the runway needed to move. My calculation showed that a much larger shift was needed to meet FAA regulations. I submitted my calculation as a comment for the developing SEIS, and also wrote a blog post (ConnectorComments.org) detailing my calculation. I never even received a confirmation from DOTD that they received my comment. However, I can only assume that DOTD and their contractors agreed with my analysis because after I submitted that comment the plan was changed to tunnel University Avenue under the interstate rather than flying over it.

What would the environmental and financial consequences have been for residents of Lafayette if the NEPA process had been abbreviated? How much has NEPA’s required public involvement reduced the risk to our city’s drinking water and public health? How much waste would have happened before correction of the intersection design at the end of our airport runway? 

In summary, NEPA safeguards both taxpayers and the general public. Circumventing full NEPA consideration of projects increases the likelihood of wasteful government spending, environmental damage, and damage to public health. I therefore support the CEQ proposed rules.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Another letter to the US Secretary of Transportation opposing the I-49 Connector

9th September 2021

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg

U.S. Department of Transportation 

1200 New Jersey Ave., SE 

Washington, DC 20590

RE: Opposition to the proposed Lafayette Louisiana I-49 Connector (1)

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for publicly recognizing the disproportionate impact of urban interstates on minority populations.  I was thrilled when you made the statement (2) that “In the Biden-Harris administration, we will make righting these wrongs an imperative.” This is a welcome change.

I am writing to you concerning the proposed Lafayette Louisiana I-49 Connector which is planning to plow 5.5 miles of new interstate through the heart of my city. I could use many adjectives to describe the proposed Lafayette I-49 Connector. A few are: unjust, wasteful, ill-conceived, high risk, anachronistic, and racist. I am asking you to use all of the power and influence of your office to either stop and deauthorize the Lafayette Connector project, or relocate the project’s corridor to the planned Lafayette bypass, the LRX (3)

In Lafayette, there has been articulate bi-partisan and multi-racial opposition to routing I-49 through our city center. Opposition has delayed this project for more than two decades. However, the lure of authorized federal project funds with a low level of local match has led to the expenditure of many tens (maybe hundreds) of millions of federal tax dollars for continuing plan revision within the central city corridor. 

Some among us believe that this project is a long-dead “zombie” surviving only on free federal planning and design dollars. Others fear that one day the project may actually move to a construction phase.  In either case, the specter of the so-called Connector has caused neighborhood property value to fall and neighborhood business to flee. 

The injustice and environmental risk of building along this urban corridor has long been recognized. In their scoping comment on the 1998 DEIS, the USEPA Region 6 pointed out the requirement of Executive Order 12898-Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. They stated that Federal agencies are ordered to analyze (4)

 "the environmental effects, including human health, economic and social effects, of federal actions"

Despite many millions of tax dollars spent over more than two decades, these federal requirements identified by EPA in 1998 have never been seriously addressed. I believe that this is because there is no answer. The selected routing of the project corridor was unjust by design. 

Thank you for your consideration of my request.


Michael G. Waldon


  1. Louisiana State Project No. H.004273
  2. Twitter @PeteButtigieg Dec 20, 2020
  3. Lafayette Regional eXpressway,  http://www.lrxpressway.com/
  4. Final Environmental Impact Statement, I-49 Connector, Lafayette Louisiana, August 2002, Volume 2, Appendix C, Page C-29

This letter is also available in pdf format through this link.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Notes from the Lafayette Connector Neighborhood Meeting April 21, 2021

 Rosa Parks Transportation Center, 4:30 pm, April 21, 2021

Meeting Notes 

In attendance there were 3 other citizens present in the meeting room (4 total including myself). Other citizens may have attended online but if they did they never commented or questioned. That makes me think that the online Zoom participants were all government employees  or others who were just observing.

Piling Alternatives

Alternative pilings*

As in prior meetings, the meeting was organized around a set of questions about the project design. We were offered 4 different piling designs (see figure
), one with art. We were asked which piling design we preferred. Then different girder designs were offered, and we were asked to choose from the pictures. I commented that I prefer as few pilings as possible, that pilings should not go deep enough to get past the clay layer, and I suggested earthen berms instead of piers under the bridge where there is contamination. I and another participant also noted that picking a selected pier or girder does not mean we approve of the project.

Another neighborhood concern is toxic construction dust and runoff. I commented that the preferred design should disturb the contaminated soil as little as possible. Much of the soil in the right-of-way is contaminated with arsenic, lead, asbestos, and other toxics. I believe that decades ago the railyard soil was perhaps covered with a thin layer of cleaner soil as remediation. Any digging or use of heavy machinery may therefore require workers to wear protective masks and clothing (moon suits), and the site will need to have a dust and runoff control plan. It may also need continuous dust monitoring at the fence line testing for the known toxic contaminants released from the disturbed soil. 

One question was whether we prefer a roadway elevation that allows 17 feet of clearance, or 22 feet of clearance. This led to questions about how this decision affects the noise level and area of noise impact. Noise was a big concern. We asked “What is the impact of roadway height on noise? We were told that we will not know how much noise to expect or how the design impacts noise until after the design is selected. Then they will model the noise levels from the selected design. We pointed out that the height of the elevated roadway may impact the noise level. 

I also commented on train noise. With the planned elevated roadway next to the railway, the project is likely to focus noise from trains and train whistle blasts into the surrounding community. With only my intuition to guide me, I am guessing the train whistle could actually cause hearing damage if it blasts next to people standing under the highway. I am also guessing the project would mean that the train whistle will be a lot louder in people’s homes if the Connector is ever constructed.

It seems clear that for those who will be living in the vicinity of the highway, noise and contamination, and health risks are very high priority concerns. However, as I understand from this meeting, DOTD will only publicly consider and evaluate these priority issues after the final design is selected and approved. 

Concerning noise barriers, we learned tonight that a new policy concerning storm evacuation routes allows sound walls on the roadway structure to be 14 feet high rather than the previous maximum of 10 feet. That is good news, but it does not mean DOTD will necessarily approve building sound walls or how high they will build them.

On the topic of connectivity, we learned that there is a Complete Streets policy. I had not heard of that before. It sounds like a very good thing. However, it also sounds like the policy is more of a vision statement and not strictly a requirement.

We were asked about alternative designs for gateway markers at one or both ends of the project. We were shown alternative pictures of lighted ornamental metal structures that would communicate some abstract message about our city. 

There seemed to be little interest in gateway ornaments, but this question did lead us into talking about the loss of our Lafayette visitor center. It seems reasonable that the new visitor information center should be located at one of the gateways. I commented that my understanding is that replacement of the visitor center is a local expense that must somehow come from local sources rather than federal or state highway funds.

The final question was what use do we prefer for the space under the elevated roadway. We were shown pictures of parks and playgrounds. Another participant immediately pointed out that this question amounts to pure propaganda for the project because none of these uses would be funded by DOTD. We were then told that indeed, DOTD will not build a park or even a single basketball goal. I believe they said that this question is simply aspirational. 

It was also pointed out by another citizen that much of the land under the bridge is classed by DEQ as being only for industrial use. I pointed out that DOTD could choose to clean up the site to residential standards, and that railyards in other places have been cleaned up to that level. However, DOTD plans to do only the minimal clean up required to complete the project. 

We were also told that DOTD does not intend to buy or take the entire railyard site, and any part outside the right-of-way will receive no remediation by DOTD. 

The meeting ended at about 6:00 pm. This meeting was for neighborhood input. I attended because my church is in the neighborhood, and I tried to limit comments to neighborhood issues. We were assured that there are upcoming meetings that will include the entire community and provide more details on the new design proposals.

Michael Waldon, PhD

*The figure is copied from the LCAG meeting Sept. 9, 2020. It is similar to the one shown during this meeting.

This post was updated to correct the date of the meeting. Sorry!. --mike