Federal, state and local elected officials push for completion of I-49 connector
Frustrated with the amount of time it’s taking for funding to be secured and work to start on Shreveport’s Inner-City Connector project, federal, state, and local leaders joined Shreveport business and community leaders for a virtual press conference to push for movement on the project.
“We haven’t even reached the first milestone yet,” U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson said during the Monday morning press conference. “Many of us are very frustrated by this and we’ve been hit with delay after delay and missed deadline after missed deadline. We recently learned that the record of decision, which is the end of the process, may not be reached until the end of 2021 at the earliest. It’s just not an acceptable deadline for us.”
Part of the I-49 corridor running from Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans, Louisiana, the I-49 Inner-City Connector will be a new interstate facility approximately 3.6 miles in length that would intersect Shreveport connecting I-49 at the I-20 interchange with I-49 North at the I-220 interchange, according to information from NLCOG’s (Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments) website.
Johnson is not placing blame on anyone regarding what’s happened up to this point, he said. What’s relevant, Johnson added, is what happens going forward.
The various leaders are a bi-partisan mix of those wanting to see the project’s completion, to issue a letter addressed to Gov. John Bel Edwards, Dr. Shawn Wilson, head of Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development, the Federal Highway Administration and NLCOG, (Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments).
Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and Bossier Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker are among those who signed off on the letter along with Caddo Commissioner Roy Burrell who has a long-time involvement with the project.
“All of these folks agree that this is a project that is essential for our area and that’s why we’re trying to push this in a respectful manner,” Johnson said. “The request is very simple, we’re asking that the environmental review process be completed in a timely fashion and an appropriate manner, so we can maintain the integrity of the process. We’re also asking the recipients of the letter to agree with us that they will make this a priority and sometime in the near future, schedule a meeting in Northwest Louisiana with us so that we can see one another eye-to-eye and have stakeholders on the project hear the same thing at the same time.”
Johnson added the project is important because there may be a big infrastructure spending package coming through congress in the early part of next year, after the presidential election.
“We want to be positioned well at that time to be able to make a very strong case for the completion of the Inner-City Connector,” Johnson said. “We know the project will cost at least $500 million, if not more.”
State legislators have already procured $100 million in state funding for the project.
“We have to get this to shovel ready so that we have the ability to go and argue for these funds,” Johnson said.
Johnson added the second reason is the project could be a big part of Louisiana’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Sen. Barrow Peacock (Dist. 37 Shreveport-Bossier) said it’s a shame that after all the time that’s passed, the project still has no movement.
Larry English, co-chairman of the Shreveport Economic Recovery Task Force, spoke during the press conference saying his group is looking at projects they think can be "shovel-ready".
The African American community, he added, has suffered from COVID-19 disproportionately, and the I-49 Connector project would have a great, economic impact with jobs and contracts for the community, particularly the Allendale Community.
The I-49 project came about in the 1970s with construction starting in 1981.
“About 95 percent of Interstate 49 was completed by the fall of 1989,” Johnson said. “I-49 cut the travel times down dramatically to get to Baton Rouge. Interstates are really important for economic development.”
All 11 segments of I-49 have been completed except for the 3.6 miles of the corridor through Shreveport that would connect I-20 to the 220 segments of I-49 and complete the project.
“We’ve had a lot of different political leaders, business and community leaders, all throughout the years working on trying to get this done,” Johnson said. “The Inner-City Connector for I-49 is critically important to us. The project is currently in the environmental review process, which is required under federal law to obtain federal funding to finish a project like that. It’s a complex, multi-step process with a lot of moving parts that usually takes on average, a little over seven years from start to finish on the review process.”
The I-49 Connector project is now in its eighth year.