LAFAYETTE — A local group considering tolls to help pay for Interstate 49 through Lafayette has put its work on hold pending a state study on using toll revenue to complete I-49 all the way to New Orleans.
Completing the interstate from Lafayette to New Orleans would cost an estimated $5 billion — a price tag that has been a major roadblock for the project.
The Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission has studied the use of tolls to help fund two shorter options. Those options are an 18-mile stretch going south from I-10 in Lafayette and a 37-mile stretch from Lafayette that pushes farther through Iberia Parish.
The Expressway Commission on Tuesday announced that it has suspended further work on the toll study pending an I-49 toll report by the state Department of Transportation and Development on the possibility of using tolls to help pay for the full length from Lafayette to New Orleans.
The Legislature earlier this year asked DOTD to issue the report by December.
Expressway Commissioner Elaine Abell said the commission will provide its past research on toll funding to DOTD.
“They can piggyback and use what we already have,” she said.
A preliminary study done for the Expressway Commission estimated the cost for the two shorter options would range from $1 billion to $1.4 billion, with the bulk of the expense tied to the partially elevated portion through the city of Lafayette.
Tolls of 16 cents per mile for passenger vehicles could cover about half the cost for either option, and other state and federal funding sources might be able to close the gap, according to the preliminary study.
Abell said the Expressway Commission plans to refocus its efforts after the completion of the DOTD study.
“We’ve got to press this to get this moving,” she said.
The Expressway Commission on Tuesday also heard of new I-49 funding possibilities in the federal transportation bill that went into effect earlier this year.
It’s too early to tell if I-49 might be a good candidate for substantial federal funding under the new bill, but the prospects seem better than in past years, said Kam Movassaghi, president of Lafayette consulting firm Fenstermaker.
“What is exciting is that there are some opportunities,” Movassaghi said.
Much of the work to complete I-49 south in recent years has involved upgrading U.S. 90 to interstate standards — a series of projects along the route to build overpasses, add frontage roads and limit access points.
Still awaiting funding are the two most expensive portions: the section through Lafayette and the 36 miles from Raceland to the Westbank Expressway in Jefferson Parish.