21 July 2008

Lafayette: Loop and I-49 connector slow to get funding

The Daily Advertiser: Proposed road projects tied up

Funding crunches seem to be hitting everywhere these days, and Louisiana is proving to be no different. Lafayette's wanting to build a connector for I-49, an elevated freeway roughly covering the existing Evangeline Thruway route. This looks like it would be the "missing link" for the future route. There's also talk of a toll loop, which on a preliminary basis would connect I-49 near Carencro, I-10 near Scott and US 90 near Youngsville. (Personally, I think the loop would see little use as a toll road, but that's my opinion... this from someone who used to go out of the way to I-55 or I-10 to avoid Causeway tolls when gas was cheap. ...Anyway.) They think tolls will pay for the loop, but they can't find the startup money for it.

I can think of a few projects around the state that could use work first, to be honest. Still, as the price rises for everything and even state Departments of Transportation start feeling the hurt, I'm not optimistic. Until oil prices crash, I see DOTs struggling even to fund emergency maintenence, unless taxes go up drastically... and people can prove to be NIMBYs about taxes just as easily as they can about roadways or other development.


Anthony Kennerson said...

First off....the Daily Advertiser down here isn't well known for its accuracy; most of us down here trust the Acadiana bureau for the Baton Rouge Advocate paper for more substansial coverage.

Secondly....they kinda mix their projects up; in that they combine the I-49 Connector project with the upgrade of US 90 just south to LA 88 as one project costing $700 million. In fact, they are two seperate projects, though serving the same corridor. The real limits of the I-49 Connector project are from the I-10/I-49 interchange to near the Lafayette Regional Airport along the Evangeline Thruway; the section of US 90 south of there is officially covered as a segment of the "I-49 South" upgrade of US 90 to New Orleans.

As far as funding goes, though: I'm a bit more optimistic for the segments of I-49, because they are already well ahead in the planning process (both the I-49 Connector and the US 90 Lafayette upgrade are in the design process right now), and more than likely will get the funding they need in the next highway appropriation/authorization bill that is due up next year. Regardless of how high gas prices are right now, there is simply too much consensus and support at both the state and fed level for I-49 South not to be built.....and there is always the threat of a major hurricane evacuation to rush the deal, too.

The Lafayette Metro Expressway loop, though, is a different kettle of fish, indeed. Although I can understand the need to have a facility that connects the periphery of Lafayette Parish and offers an alternative, more direct connection from I-10 west to US 90 south; I don't think that there is nearly as much support for the LMX as some assume....and even the local officials out there are worried that funding the LMX, even as a toll road, would take money from the more direct need of extending I-49. There once was a plan floated about to combine I-49 and the LMX as a joint toll road system as a means of generating funds from both, but that must have been rejected by the Feds because it would be impossible to toll the alignment of I-49 through Lafayette.

Obviously, if the funds were available, I'd be seriously for funding both....but considering the priorities and the funding; extending I-49 must take preference over anything else.


Taralyn said...

Normally, I'd use the Advocate too, but they didn't have a story on this. (Truthfully, road news is slow in this state...) I'll know now to scrutinize their articles a little extra, though.

Froggie said...

Anthony, let's see if Congress fixes the highway trust fund first, before you start believing that they'll splurge for I-49 South funding in the next highway bill.

Anthony Kennerson said...

Froggie...I'm well aware that the Transportation Trust Fund has to be reformed and protected before we can talk of any increase in funding. But given the need, I believe that Congress will step up to the plate and do the neccessary steps needed...and the pressure to fund infrastructure is simply too great to ignore.

Oh....and Congress really doesn't have much of a choice but to fund at least some of I-49 South in the next transportation reappropriations bill; since it is much further advanced than I-69; it can be justified on so many fronts (hurricane evacuation, an alternative for I-10 traffic between Lafayette and New Orleans); and most of it is already completed.

And as for the funding issue: Remember that Louisiana isn't quite in the position that other states are in that the high oil prices area actually benefiting the state coffers by boosting state revenue...and a great deal of that revenue will be available to fund highway improvements. Last year, the state was able to fund the remaining sections of I-49 North from Shreveport to almost the Arkansas border....and the only reason they haven't been able to make it all the way to the border now is due to the crawfishing of AHTD officials in completing their side or the I-49/AR 549 connection. I see no reason why the state can't at least provide enough state matching funds to complete I-49 through Lafayette and at least as far as Morgan City; that would leave only the section from Raceland east to New Orleans to fund. The only fly in the ointment I can see would be if Western states like California which are currently "donor states" as far as highway funding is concerned (i.e., they get back less than they put in through user fee and gas tax revenue) attempt to change the formula to squeeze states like Louisiana and Texas from getting more than their share.....or if McCain wins and we see a continuing effort by more libertarian conservatives to push privatization through tolls and conversion of existing free highways to toll facilities. Considering the mass opposition the drove down the Trans Texas Corridor, I'd consider the latter scenario highly unlikely.