The Advocate (Acadiana Bureau) - I-49 task force debates funding
It's about time people started to try to figure out how to fund the thing, you know. So far, it's looking like tolls could be on the table. (Gack.) Obviously, there's also a need to obtain more support from the Legislature and Congress, to push the corridor as more of a priority.
First things first - tolls won't work. Ever. Not in Acadiana. The traffic volumes might be worth an Interstate, but they'll never support a toll road, especially in a part of the state that has none currently. The locals and the sugarcane farmers hate the idea of tolls. Tolling would be a non-starter. They could exempt some traffic from the tolls, but then that defeats the purpose of tolling the thing in the first place... especially if they exempt agricultural vehicles.
Still, they're considering multiple options. Good for them - you can't count on anything as a sole way to fund a project as huge as the I-49 southern extension.
Another option floated by the task force would be special tax districts along the corridor and an extra tax on gasoline along the route. I see many potholes in that approach. The most significant is that the "special tax district" would have to be statewide, otherwise people would start to dodge it by fueling in jurisdictions outside the tax district. I know I would. I don't know about you, but I can make it from Lafayette to New Orleans via the current US 90 corridor on about half a tank, and that's in an early 90's midsize Buick. My Civic could make the trip on less. That means I can gas up in Lake Charles, Alexandria, Baton Rouge or Slidell and dodge fueling on the corridor entirely. (Either that, or I could take I-10.)
Oops, I said that out loud. That's another problem with any usage- or consumption-based tax along the corridor, that being that I-10 is shorter, and in conjunction with I-12 is shorter still. With many tollways, you can get traffic that is simply aiming to go through the tolled route as well as the traffic that has to actually go somewhere along the toll road, and the other options suck as far as traffic or expediency goes. (See: Pennsylvania Turnpike.) The fact that Future I-49 is already bypassed by a superior routing for traffic bound for points east and west means that you don't get that traffic that would be going to/from, say, Houston or Biloxi (unless they originate/end locally), and therefore you can't get toll money from them.
And even then, there's a (State) Constitutional ban that stops local entities from levying a gasoline tax. It'd take legislative action to override that problem, and the Legislature's never liked local-option gas taxes. That sure as hell ain't changing with Guv'nuh Bobby "No Taxes EVAR!!1" Jindal pulling the strings.
These are all inventive options, mind you, but the old standby is still out there: state and federal funding. It's how we normally make Interstates around here. The only problem with that option currently is that the state is damn near broke, considering all the cuts the Governor is saying we need to make to state programs. The Feds ain't in much better shape, multiple stimuli and bailouts on demand aside.
All that said, work is still proceeding slowly along the corridor. Several overpasses built in St. Mary and Iberia Parishes over the past decade are bringing the corridor closer to Interstate standards. An overpass is currently being built at LA 675 in Iberia Parish, and stim funding is paying for an interchange to be built elsewhere in Iberia. The governor's proposed putting about $10 million in the budget for another overpass in St. Mary. These areas aren't the real hangup - the real hangup that I've seen so far from traveling the highway would be the area from Raceland east to about Marrero, covering Des Allemands, Paradis, Boutte and other places along that routing. Some of it is so cramped, bypassing part of the route may be inevitable - which will definitely make the state coffers bleed as a lot of it would need to be elevated.
In all, progress is slow on the Future Interstate. It's going to take time. Middle ground must be found - not only a source of funding, but a good source of funding that will fit the circumstances of the routing itself.