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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Dream of I-49 South inches along

Dream of I-49 South inches along

Progress is slowly being made on the Interstate 49 project that could be completed within 15 years.

The I-49 South Coalition was formed in 2013, bringing business owners, elected officials and activists together in one place to advocate for a plan to turn U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans into part of the national interstate system.

The coalition was founded by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, and was modeled after the La. 1 Coalition looking to elevate La. 1 from Leeville to Golden Meadow.

Once completed, Interstate 49 would link New Orleans’ Interstate 10 to the current end of I-49 in Lafayette.

Although Allain is no longer involved in the coalition on a day-to-day basis, he said he still strongly supports the project.

“I think I-49 is the most important project in the area,” Allain said.

A large part of the project remains unfinished in Lafourche and St. Charles parishes. According to the group’s website, the roadway from Raceland to the West Bank Expressway is expected to cost between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion. That project includes an estimated $20 million to $25 million for the Interstate 310 and U.S. 90 interchange in Boutte.

Members of the I-49 South Coalition met with state Treasurer John Schroder in March, asking for help from the Louisiana State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. The transportation bank provides financing for eligible transportation projects through low-interest loans to public entities, a news release from the coalition states.

However, no official funding for the project has been announced.

In May, Gov. John Bel Edwards also proclaimed May 15 as I-49 South Day in the state.

As a result, members of the coalition met with representatives of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the State Treasurer’s Office to discuss the project’s progress.

“More than 100 of the planned 160 miles of I-49 South are complete or currently under construction,” the group states.

I-49 South Coalition Chairman David Mann said he’s optimistic the remaining projects will be completed within 10 to 15 years.

“I’m very optimistic of the things that are happening out there right now,” he said. “From a coalition standpoint, we’re happy that we know there’s under 100 miles that needs to be upgraded.”

A recent economic impact study found that completing the southern portion of the interstate “demonstrates robust short-term and long-term impacts on jobs and economic growth.”

Another section of the roadway outside Morgan City is also in the initial planning and study phase and is expected to cost between $240 million and $300 million.

In Lafayette, the link between the two roadways has seen more recent progress. In February, the I-49 Connector Committee agreed to move forward with analyzing four possible designs for the project. That process is expected to take nine to 12 months.

According to the impact study, finishing the connector would result in a $2.3 billion economic impact over a 21-year period and save drivers an estimated 5 million hours of driving by 2044.

With the entire I-49 south segments completed, the state would see an economic impact of $9.7 billion, save 27.2 million driving hours and create 6,000 jobs by 2044.

The segment of I-49 that connects Lafayette to north Louisiana is already complete.

There is also an Interstate 49 International Coalition that was formed in 2002 to bring together groups in Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri to complete the interstate from Kansas City, Missouri, to New Orleans.

Kansas City will also serve as the connection to Interstate 29, which already runs to Winnipeg, Canada, therefore creating a 1,700-mile uninterrupted interstate from Canada to New Orleans and beyond, the group’s website states.

“Once the interstate is completed, even to I-310, we’re going to have a lot of things that will be able to happen along the corridor that aren’t happening now,” Mann said.


-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.