LAFAYETTE — A coalition pushing for the completion of Interstate 49 South is pulling together funds to hire a full-time director to shepherd the project, state Sen. Bret Allain said Monday.
Allain, R-Franklin, outlined the work of the recently formed I-49 South Coalition at a presentation Monday to the Acadiana Press Club.
“We have to quit talking about it and make it a priority,” Allain said of the effort to complete I-49 South. “We just need to get together and push in the same direction.”
Allain began bringing together political leaders, economic development officials and business owners last year to form the I-49 South Coalition, a nonprofit group focused on completing I-49 from Lafayette to New Orleans.
Allain said the next step is to work through the coalition to raise enough money to hire a director to work exclusively on issues related to the interstate.
The completion of I-49 South involves mainly upgrading the existing U.S. 90 to interstate standards.
A series of upgrades in recent years has brought new overpasses, interchanges and frontage roads along U.S. 90, but about $4.5 billion in work remains, including the costly elevated portion through Lafayette estimated at $1 billion.
Those are big numbers for transportation projects in Louisiana, and supporters of completing I-49 have identified no source of funds for the project.
That lack of funding is the main obstacle, and it has been an issue since the first “future corridor of I-49” signs went up along U.S. 90 in 1998.
The funding options being explored are the same that have been discussed for the past decade — tolls, a windfall of federal funds, a new gasoline tax.
The I-49 South Coalition has not endorsed any particular funding strategy, but Allain said nothing should be ruled out.
Allain said one of the most important things the coalition can do is ensure the project is shovel ready should a source of funding materialize.
“In politics, there are opportunities that come along,” he said.
Allain said the prospects for completing I-49 now could be better than ever.
For one, the southern section is no longer competing with funds for I-49 North, which is largely complete.
Allain also said there seems to be a renewed interest at the state Department of Transportation and Development in moving the project along.
“This is the last major project in Louisiana in regards to interstates,” Allain said. “We are going to make a new press to get this done.”