BY MATTHEW BEATON, THE DAILY IBERIAN
The Daily Iberian: I-49? Get it done
State legislators representing Iberia Parish carried a similar tune when asked about the best way to complete Interstate 49. The specifics were scant, but the message was straight: It must get done.
State Sens. Fred Mills, R-Parks, and Bret Allain, R-Franklin, and state Reps. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, Mike Huval, R-Parks, and Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, made this clear at the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce’s "Eggs & Issues” breakfast at the Ramada Inn on Tuesday.
But there are impediments."We’re battling budget issues,” Barras said.
He said the money can make things difficult. Then, Barras incorrectly said I-49 starts around Minnesota or maybe even Canada. I-49 officially starts at I-20 in Shreveport and ends at I-10 Lafayette, said Dustin Annison, the state Department of Transportation spokesman. He said there is ongoing construction to extend I-49 from Interstate 220 in Shreveport to the Arkansas line. It’s slated to be finished in 2016.
Based on that false assertion, Barras said asking South Louisiana to pay for the final leg of I-49, between Lafayette and New Orleans, was "not totally acceptable.”
He also mentioned the "tolls or no tolls” evaluation, which DOTD is working on. The study’s findings must be reported no later than Dec. 13. It was authorized by SCR 38, passed in the recent session.
Barras said he would only be in favor of tolls if they expedited I-49’s completion. Funding permitting, DOTD has said I-49 will be finished in 2023, ending in Marrero south of New Orleans. The state needs $5 billion to finish I-49.
"I think you’ll see lots of discussion,” Barras told the crowd of about 130 people.
Champagne said I-49 is important for South Louisiana’s economy and said its completion is vital. She said as far as tolls go she would support them as long as locals have alternate routes and can avoid paying them.
"I believe that that can be done,” Champagne said.
Huval agreed and said tolls were feasible so long as locals supported them.
"If we can find something that’s tolerable and that (residents) will accept, I think we can make it happen,” Huval said.
But Landry stood in stark disagreement. He said he was opposed to the study and to the tolls. He said all of I-49 thus far was built on federal and state dollars — without tolls. He said it was unfair for South Louisianans to fund I-49’s completion, when no other part of the state had to fund its separate leg.
Meanwhile, Allain said he sits on the I-49 task force in Baton Rouge. He spoke with authority about how the project is too important to be left unfinished.
"Whatever it takes we need to complete it,” Allain said.
He said I-49 would act as an economic generator for the area, saying "people and business follow interstates.”
Allain said everything should be put on the table — including tolls and alternate routes — to make its completion happen. But neither Allain nor the other legislators offered any specifics on how to finish I-49 — or finish it faster.
Allain only pointed to other parts of the state. He said I-49 North was completely funded already and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent improving interstates east of Baton Rouge. "It’s time we get it done here,” he said. His fellow senator, Mills, offered no plan either. Mills didn’t speak on tolls or completion plans, only encouraged those in attendance to wait and read the study when it becomes public in December.