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