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I-49 Lafayette Connector/I-49 South Update (The Sequel)

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Is there an overall strategy for how they're going to chip away at all the at-grade intersections and driveways connecting to US-90 South of Lafayette Regional Airport?

I suppose the priority is to convert the busiest intersections controlled by traffic signals first and then spread out from there. Ambassador Caffery Pkwy and US-90 is a busy intersection. Converting that to a freeway exit and extending new frontage roads over the BNSF/UP rail line will result in a 2 mile long section of 6-lane freeway.

When this project is completed I wonder if they'll shift focus to the half dozen or so traffic signals on US-90 farther South before it turns into a freeway at Captain Cade Road.

I'm guessing that the strategy is to move with the money the funds permit, they will convert more of US 90 to Interstate status.

The southern limits of the Lafayette Connector project are just to the north of Verot School Road, and an interchange/frontage road upgrade at Verot School Rd. is in the design stage, waiting for funding and construction. There are also plans to expand and extend the frontage roads to be continuous one-way from Verot School to the existing and now completed Albertson's Parkway/St. Nazaire Road interchange, and perhaps build overpasses and interchanges at Southpark Road (LA 89) and Iola Road/Morgan Avenue in Broussard.

The segment of US 90 south of Ambassador Caffery is also scheduled for an upgrade, with an overpass/frontage road setup extended to Young Street (LA 92-1 West) and Petroleum Parkway (LA 92-1 East); and frontage roads would extend from there to where the existing frontage roads end at Captain Cade Road.

With a bit more money flowing in, the process should be speeding up a bit.

The current temporary setup for the non-freeway sections of US 90 was modified to the current RCUTs + signalized J-turns about 5 years ago; that will obviously disappear with the freeway + frontage road upgrade.

Today, LADOTD put out the official notice for the first segment of the I-49 Lafayette Connector to be built: the segment from just north of the Evangeline Thruway couplet crossing of the Louisiana & Delta RR Breaux Bridge spur to the I-10 interchange.

This would include the interchange at Willow Street; the dogbone roundabout connection between Martin Luther King Drive, Castille Avenue, and the two-way frontage road system flanking the Thruway between Willow and I-10, and a temporary connection to the current one-way Evangeline Thruway couplet near the railroad spur crossing.

The contract would ultimately become a Design-Build contract to begin ROW acquisition, design, and construction no later than November 2023.

Here is a snippet from the Notice of Intent document (PDF)

--- Quote ---
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD) is announcing its intent to enter
into a Design-Build (DB) contract with a Design-Builder possessing both professional engineering design
capability and qualified construction contracting capability for the (Future I-49) US 167 Interchange @
Willow Street Project (the “Project”) in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.

The major elements of the Project as currently proposed may include the following:
 A new interchange on US 167 at Willow Street;
 Multilane mainline roadway on US 167 (Future I-49);
 Frontage roads;
 New and modified local roadways;
 Right-of-way appraisal and acquisition services;
 Utility coordination;
 Maintenance of traffic in a congested urban environment; and
 Close coordination with key stakeholders.

The anticipated contract execution date for this Project is no later than November 2023. The Project’s
conceptual cost is within the range of $250 million to $300 million; however, this cost may be adjusted as
additional detailed project cost information becomes available.

--- End quote ---

And here's a screenshot of the limits of this project:

Well, we found out today why this project has been dormant this past year.

An opponent of the Connector project, Ann Burruss, recently filed a civil rights complaint to the Federal Highway Administration challenging the alignment of the project through the center of Lafayette, and in response, the FHWA has launched their own civil rights investigation to analyze whether or not the project disproportionally impacts Black neighborhoods within Lafayette to the extent of warranting mitigation, if not complete cancelation.

The FHWA is not bound to completely cancel the project; it could simply order more mitigation to ease the impact of the project; however, I'm figuring that that will not ease the concerns of folk like Ms. Burruss, who want the Connector cancelled and an alternative (such as the Teche Ridge bypass east of Lafayette or the Lafayette Regional Expressway toll loop) alignment imposed.

LADOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson has defended LADOTD's process throughout, saying that any notion of the alignment process being racist and discriminatory is "disingenuous" and "a complete snub" to the process.

It's more likely that this will probably result in tweaks to the project to help mitigate some of the impacts, rather than full cancellation. However, this shows that opposition to the project is still pretty strong, albeit not so deep.

Article in the Lafayette Current:

[Note: edited to correct Ann Burruss' last name]

Personal comment on the above:

This is nothing more than another Hail Mary attempt by the same opponents of the Connector project to appeal to the usual New Urbanist claptrap about "racist freeways". And, upon any sensible evaluation, this doesn't make any sense.

No neighborhood is divided by the Connector project. There is a brief eight block area between the UP rail spur and the Second/Third Street couplet where the elevated mainline does use the center median of the Evangeline Thruway couplet which separates the Sterling Grove and Ballard Subdivision/Laplace neighborhoods, but that section is elevated with complete and full access underneath, and the northbound Thruway is even shifted AWAY from Sterling Grove to mitigate the impact. The center section (Second/Third to Taft) avoids the Thruway altogether by traversing the grounds of the old Southern Pacific railyard while the existing Thruway is converted to a "grand boulevard"; but there is no further division between the Freetown-Port Rico neighborhood west of the project alignment and the McComb-Veazey neighborhood east of it. In fact, the mitigation of the former railyard site would allow for further strengthening the connections between the two neighborhoods.

The claim used by Ms. Burruss is that because the original Evangeline Thruway couplet was so divisive and "racist" through the neighborhoods when it was built in the 1950's, developing the Connector along that alignment would further the "racist" intent, and thus violates the "civil rights" of residents. This is daffy thinking, and abusing racism to promote simple NIMBYism.

Not to mention, even though the cost of the Connector has spiraled to nearly $2 billion, it still beats the alternative of a Teche Ridge bypass in St. Martin Parish that would cost nearly that much due to it having to negotiate through Cypress Swamp and wetlands; and the LRX loop, which would be even more expensive to build.

This nonsense needs to cease. Seriously.



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