The gist: Instead of draining all $6.8 million from the Main Street revitalization project to pump into other transportation initiatives, $1 million will remain to scope the Downtown priority.
A Metropolitan Planning Organization subcommittee approved the transfer Wednesday, leaving one more stop at the organization’s executive committee before the transfer is official.
Get caught up, quickly: The funds were originally awarded to the Downtown Development Authority in 2014 by the MPO, a regional agency responsible for funneling federal transportation dollars. Taking advantage of a new MPO policy designed to sweep out unused monies, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux targeted the funds for a transfer request, asking that they go to several new projects, including the University Avenue corridor, a campaign promise. The move rankled Downtown advocates who have fought to keep the money Downtown.
“A million is better than zero,” DDA CEO Anita Begnaud tells me. “We have a plan now.” Begnaud and DDA board members have lobbied the administration for the past six months to hang on to the money. The funds were more or less locked up by a bureaucratic dispute over how to pay for engineering. The $1 million that remains was itself technically “transferred” to a new engineering assessment project for Main Street redevelopment.
The move doesn’t necessarily represent a delay. Scoping was a step already required before any construction could begin. The city will put up a 20% match to draw down $800,000 in federal dollars through the MPO.
Long term, DDA will need a willing partner in LCG to pay for construction costs. It’s still feasible that DDA could go back through the MPO to get construction dollars once the scope is complete. MPO Transportation Director Melanie Bordelon tells me the 2014 project was approved for funding before the MPO became part of the regional Acadiana Planning Commission and changed its rules and priorities. Under the new regime, she says, it’s unlikely this kind of project would have been awarded funds.
LCG asked to move a total of $8 million to new projects, including the $6.8 for Main Street, zeroing out dormant funds for planning in the I-49 Connector corridor and other projects. Here’s a quick list of where the money went:
- Coolidge Corridor Study - $500,000
- Adaptive Signal Project - $1.5 million
- Pinhook/Kaliste Saloom Intersection Study - $400,000
- N. University Phase 1 - $4.6 million
- Main Street engineer assessment — $1 million
The list previously included a transit loop connecting Downtown and UL. The project, first conceived by the Robideaux administration in 2017, was pulled from the transfer request.
Why this matters: Like Begnaud said, it’s not nothing. The Main Street corridor is part of a key intersection in Downtown, passing right in front of the old federal courthouse. Robideaux talked broadly about the need to invest in Downtown to drive parish economic growth in remarks this week at the Plan Lafayette launch. Leaving anything for the Main Street project to go forward is a small win for Downtowners, considering how little leverage they had in negotiations.