St. Charles Council gets update on I-49 project

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 22, 1998

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 22, 1998

HAHNVILLE – The St. Charles Parish Council received an update on a plan tobuild an interstate system along the southern corridor from Lafayette to New Orleans at its meeting Monday night.

The proposed extension to Interstate 49 would run 143 miles with a cost of $648.1 million, of which $645.7 has not been funded yet. Work to bedone in St. Charles Parish consists of a 18-mile stretch from LouisianaHighway 308 to Interstate 310 and a 15-mile stretch from I-310 to the Westbank Expressway.

Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris, a member of the governor’s I-49 South Project Task Force, presented the update to the council. Harris said one ofthe overriding reasons for the need for the interstate is safety along the corridor. Harris pointed out that there are an average of six deaths a yearin both Jefferson and Lafayette parishes along U.S. Highway 90, althoughhe did not have the figures for St. Charles Parish. The highway has beencalled one of the most dangerous in Louisiana.

“Death and injury along Highway 90 is the norm, not the exception,” Harris said.

A second reason for the need of I-49 is hurricane evacuation. Harris saidthe proposed route would allow residents of south Louisiana to get out more quickly.

Harris said the route would also help economic development in the region.

Over 36 percent of the state’s population lives and works along the proposed corridor, and it’s one of the top 10 industrial corridors in terms of jobs per capita in the United States. But Harris is worried about thesafety of workers getting to those jobs.

“It is safer to be in the oil patch than getting there along Highway 90,” Harris said.

The route would also ease traffic congestion, creating a New Orleans metro loop as well as providing an alternate route to bypass the bottlenecks that occur in Baton Rouge and Metairie.

The proposed I-49 extension has been made a priority one corridor by Congress, and the House has passed $5.5 million for its planning. Harrisasked the council to urge the governor, the Legislature and the Department of Transportation and Development that additional funding should be allocated to the corridor.

Harris said people prefer to drive along interstates and that his city desires to be along an interstate-quality road, but that the whole region would benefit from such a route.

“We need to step up to the plate and have an interstate-quality highway not only in our two communities but also in South Louisiana,” Harris said.

Council chairman “Ram” Ramchandran asked that Harris and the task force keep putting pressure on the federal government for more funding.

In other highway-related matters, Parish President Chris Tregre introduced an ordinance to adopt an agreement with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to proceed with placing welcome signs and landscaping at the parish entrances along Highway 90, U.S. Highway 61, and Louisiana highways 18, 628, 48 and 3127. The statewould cover 80 percent of costs with the parish paying the remainder of the balance.

“The state has sent the welcome signs, the agreement is in and the funding has been approved,” Tregre said. “If it is passed tonight, we canproceed with the project.”The council passed the ordinance 7-0 with councilmen Richard Duhe and Ellis Alexander absent.

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