Mar 13, 2013 11:59 New coalition pushes for completion of I-49 South New coalition pushes for completion of I-49 South Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Traffic rolls northbound on U.S. 90 Thursday in Lafayette. RICHARD BURGESS| Acadiana bureau March 13, 2013 Comments LAFAYETTE — Meetings are scheduled in Patterson and Schriever this month in an effort to build a coalition of business leaders, community boosters and politicians to push for the completion of Interstate 49 South. The I-49 South Coalition is still in the early stages of development, but the group has plans to form a board of directors later this year and hire at least one full-time staff member, said Michael Tamporello, who has been working with state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, to organize the group. Tamporello said the plan is to create a coalition that will be “the unifying voice of the I-49 project.” The completion of I-49 along the path of U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans — estimated at $5 billion — has been talked about for decades. Several projects in recent years have brought portions of U.S. 90 up to interstate standards, but big-dollar obstacles remain, including the mostly elevated 6-mile stretch through Lafayette that is estimated at more than $700 million. Groups similar to the emerging coalition, though less formal and smaller in scope, have come together in the past to push for completing I-49 south. “These initiatives have come up in the past and they have fizzled,” Tamporello said. He said the current effort is modeled after one coalition that successfully pushed the completion of I-49 North through Shreveport and another that continues to advocate for improvements on La. 1 in south Louisiana. Those groups pulled together a wide spectrum of interests to lobby state and federal officials for highway dollars. “We are not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Tamporello said. The new coalition has inspired hope in some longtime I-49 South supporters. “Six months ago, I would have said that I-49 was dead as a doornail,” Kam Movassaghi, president of Lafayette consulting firm Fenstermaker, said at a meeting of the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission on Thursday. The LMEC has been one of the more active groups in exploring funding possibilities for I-49 South. The group had been studying the possibility of using tolls to help fund the interstate, but the state Department of Transportation and Development has since taken the lead on the toll feasibility study. DOTD spokeswoman Deidra Lockhart said Thursday that the toll study is expected to completed by this summer. The I-49 South Coalition meetings are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Fletcher Technical Community College in Schriever and 3 p.m. on March 18 at the Patterson Civic Center. The meetings are open to the public. For more information, visit http://www.drive49south.org.