Our Views: For north and south

On one hand, it’s too soon to say the Interstate 49 connection up to Arkansas is finished, as in finished finished. But the money is there for the project, and major completion issues, such as the I-49 interchange with I-220, are being addressed.

That means it is time to look at the southern end of the giant project, and here, there is good news from the state Department of Transportation and Development.

DOTD wants the U.S. government, a principal funder of the interstate system, to approve a way to reduce the length of the elevated portion of the highway, principally in Lafourche, St. Charles and Jefferson parishes. It’s a big “if” whether the federal agencies will approve, but the DOTD game plan could halve the cost of the project between Lafayette and New Orleans.

We hope this does work out, but even with that, the project faces considerable financial hurdles. Easily $3 billion if the DOTD plans work out, that money is not likely to be found in piecemeal portions, although some bits of creative financing are being considered by state leaders surveyed by The Advocate.

The good news, DOTD chief Sherri LeBas says, is the progress already made in raising U.S. 90 in the path to interstate standards. “We’ve made great strides on I-49 South,” LeBas told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, noting about 100 miles of the route are done to the federal standard.

Even if funding for the project is not evident at this point, she said the department is laying the groundwork with planning for the future, including the estimated $750 million project through Lafayette.

The department is planning for the portion from Interstate 10 to Pinhook Road, she said. “That’s a really big design project,” LeBas said. “We are turning our attention aggressively to I-49 South.”

That is welcome, but this is not a matter of north versus south. The important thing to remember is that a big project such as I-49 is a statewide priority and one that should not be considered parochial in nature.

Tax dollars, including surplus funds from statewide revenue generated by hurricane recovery spending, have come from all over the state to fuel the interstate connection with the Arkansas line to Shreveport and Bossier City. That money, as with the federal tax dollars spent on the entire highway, represents a broader goal of economic development of the entire state.

And the value of the previous expenditures is enhanced with a highway of interstate standards from New Orleans all the way to Arkansas and thus connecting with the midsection of the United States.

We think the entire state is invested in the Interstate 49 corridor, and the entire state has an interest in seeing it completed as soon as possible.