St. Charles Herald-Guide

I-49 pushes on post-Katrina

By Michael Luke - May 31, 2006

Even with two major storms, the construction of I-49 South is continuing, although it is still in the planning stage. With a connection between Raceland and the Westbank Expressway in the New Orleans metro area, the proposed highway will irrevocably alter the St. Charles Parish. The corridor will create major economic potential.

When completed, the highway will connect Layafette to New Orleans through old Highway 90.

"The project is very important. We feel that it will expedite the evacuation," said Project Director Mike Aghayan, as the increased capacity of the future highway will allow people in the region to leave quicker and safer during impending hurricanes.

Aside from allowing people to flee faster during storms, the economic impact of the highway is also a major issue. If the highway were to come through Boutte along Hwy. 90, as proposed in one model, the business corridor would be forced to accommodate the widened road. Thus, businesses and homes would need to be bought out and moved.

But that is only one suggestion of the plan. Others include avoiding Boutte altogether, either to the north above the railroad tracks or to the south through the wetlands.

While most residents in the parish support the highway and the changes it will bring, where it is to be placed remains the most contentious issue.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development of the Federal Highway Administration are still undecided on the route. "We presented the public, in the past, with alternatives. Of the alternatives, we are studying the least damaging and most practical," Aghayan said.

As for what route is favorable, "We are considering all options, and we feel it would be premature to establish a route without going to a public meeting," said Aghayan.

The proposed parts of I-49 are being broken down into sections of independent utility. Those sections, then, are subjected to an environmental impact study. After which time, Aghayan said that the public would be presented with their conclusions.

"We are going to come to the public with the best route, and then they will have the opportunity to comment on the project," said Aghayan, adding that the planning phase should be completed by mid-July.

Aghayan expects to hold a hearing around mid to late summer, allowing concerns to be aired. Aghayan said that he is still negotiating with DJM Harris, the engineering firm handling construction.

While planning is continuing, Aghayan said that funds, which will come from the federal government, for construction still have not been secured.