Our Views: New plans, new energy

If there are great gaps in Louisiana’s transportation networks, the biggest is surely the Interstate 49 route through Lafayette and on through Acadiana into New Orleans. Now, planners are talking about ways to make the costs lower, and there is a new energy around finding the unquestionably large investments needed to make I-49 South work for the region and the state.

It’s time.

Why? In part, because the completion of TIMED projects — the set of highway four-lane projects that connected major parts of the state over the last generation — are near to completion.

It is more easily politically to extend the program and fund new projects.

A second program of major statewide projects can certainly find useful targets for the money, but in terms of a giant advance we see I-49 as a significant contributor to the economy, just as its northern route has been in north Louisiana.

When Acadiana leaders met in Lafayette recently, the state’s highway planners said some adjustment in the southern end of the I-49 route could drastically reduce the cost of that improvement, perhaps as much as $2 billion or so.

That would require approval of the federal government, but that is also something that an invigorated I-49 South Coalition can work on.

Still, even the Lafayette urban portion of the highway comes to $750 million and counting, requiring a source of funding. The total project is now at $5 billion, without the cost-saving changes proposed by the state Department of Transportation and Development.

That will require state funding, as there is no free lunch, although it is politically incorrect to say so. Even if DOTD can break this long project into several smaller pieces, thus facilitating funding out of existing revenues, that means a long, long wait for completion.

Acadiana, and Louisiana, have waited too long.

The signs say “Future I-49” along U.S. 90. The future can be now, if there is a will to get it done, fully done.