The I-49 South project – upgrading the highway to interstate standards from Lafayette to New Orleans – has been under discussion in some form for more than 40 years.
It is encouraging that lawmakers, business leaders and economic development officials are still willing to fight for funding for the project.
“For many of us, it seems like it’s sometimes a broken record. … The need is greater now than it’s ever been to get money for this corridor,” said state Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette.
The upgrade is expected to cost more than $5 billion. It can, however, be done in phases. To move forward, supporters only need the 20 percent match usually required for federal interstate projects.
The logic of extending Interstate 49 from Lafayette to New Orleans is sound. The benefits have been identified on the basis of traffic count, military need, economic development, hurricane-evacuation necessity, oil and gas development and service and safety.
Yet there always have been people attempting to stop the development.
As far back as 2003, a group called Citizens Against Government Waste exhibited a profound ignorance of the project when they decided to label it “pork.”
The organization condemned $7 million appropriated for the Interstate 49 extension as wasteful and irresponsible spending. The group listed three I-49 items as “pork,” saying the wasteful spending is an insult to the American people.
We enjoy looking back at the response of Carl Bauer, then-chairman of the governor’s I-49 Task Force. He dubbed the “watchdog” group’s action “asinine, stupid, uninformed and an outrageous condemnation of this highway.”
As Bauer pointed out, the extension is many things, “including simply completion of an incomplete Interstate, which has long since been authorized (but not totally funded unfortunately) by Congress – but it is not ‘pork.'”
With so many roadblocks thrown in the path of those working toward the extension of I-49, it speaks well for the project that backers refuse to give up, and new supporters regularly join the fight.
Despite frustration over the years, the Acadiana legislative delegation is ready for another round. Nine members of the delegation held a news conference last week at which they vowed to fight for state money for the project. They drew an enthusiastic response.
These are troubled economic times, but supporters are hopeful a share of President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic-stimulus package will become available. Billions of dollars could be allotted nationwide for roads and other infrastructure projects.
We are confident that the years of enthusiasm and hard work on the project eventually will pay dividends. Hopefully, it will be soon.
– The Daily Advertiser, Lafayette, La.