Officials are working to pin down a revised proposal for the alignment and design of the Lafayette Connector by early 2022.
The gist: More than a dozen Evangeline neighborhood revitalization projects, developed in response to construction of the I-49 Connector, were approved for funding, a small but key step in reinvestment efforts.
Get caught up, quickly: The projects are part of a plan developed by the Evangeline Corridor Initiative, an organization launched to address disinvestment in the neighborhoods the Connector is expected to impact. The ECI effort, housed within Lafayette Consolidated Government, was funded by a federal TIGER grant and is not a part of the state process to build the controversial urban interstate project.
13 projects are moving forward spread across all five ECI districts. The City-Parish Council authorized the use of $550,000 set aside in 2014 for this purpose. For the most part, the projects are the low-hanging fruit on the ECI plan.
“This first $550,000 is the first step,” ECI Chairwoman Skyra Rideaux tells me. “We want the community to know we’re committed, and it’s not just a plan on a shelf.”
Planners want to distinguish ECI from the Connector. Over the last two years, citizen participants regularly conflated the ECI work with planning work related to the I-49 Connector, a project nearly three decades in the making. While spurred by renewed planning activity on the Connector, the third such revival, the ECI corridor plan is designed to have impact regardless of the Connector’s completion.
“Even if the Connector never happens, our projects will continue to move forward,” Rideaux says. “We’re committed to making sure these communities are no longer held in limbo.”
Limbo is the key here. Blocks of urban core neighborhoods have languished while the Connector’s progress has sputtered. Millions of dollars of properties were purchased by the state over the years to make way for the Connector, including the historic Coburn’s building near the intersection of Second Street and the thruway. That building was spared demolition. Retrofitting it is on the ECI wishlist.
The Connector is plugging away quietly. DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson told me last year he expects environmental studies to be complete in late 2019 and for segments of the project, estimated to cost between $500 million and $1 billion, to be completed incrementally.
Why this matters. These catalyst projects are small solutions relative to the size of the problem. But planning fatigue is a thing. A packed civic calendar of charrettes and studies strains the public’s belief that projects will ever get done, particularly in the historically black, poor neighborhoods the ECI targets. Small wins could show the community that LCG is serious about putting a plan into action.