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.


Sincerely,

Michael G. Waldon


Footnotes:

  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