LAFAYETTE, La. — A group exploring the idea of using tolls to pay for the completion of Interstate 49 south is considering a narrowed focus on only the 6-mile portion through Lafayette.
The Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission, which has taken the local lead in the search for I-49 funding, has been considering two tolling scenarios: an 18-mile stretch from Lafayette going south and the other extending 37 miles from Lafayette through Iberia Parish.
Commissioner Elaine Abell tells The Advocate (http://bit.ly/GHTFPg ) the commission has been asked by the state Department of Transportation and Development to consider tolls only for a 6-mile elevated portion through Lafayette.
The commission has the legal authority to oversee a toll project, but DOTD would need to grant a permit for it.
"We are just trying to get it built," Abell said. "It's a huge undertaking, but it can be done."
Discussions of tolls are still in the early stage, and no decision has been made as to when or if the toll idea will move forward or what section would use tolls.
Many longtime supporters of completing I-49 through Lafayette have argued tolls offer the most realistic option to complete a massive road project that has eluded funding since the 1990s.
The 18-mile and 37-mile toll scenarios already considered by the commission would cost from $1 billion to $1.4 billion; studies of those scenarios estimated tolls of 16 cents per mile for passenger vehicles could pay for about half of the project.
The 6-mile stretch through Lafayette — dubbed the "connector" — would cost an estimated $730 million, according to figures presented at a commission meeting this week.
Average tolls of up to $2 for the entire six-mile portion would be needed to make the project feasible if the focus were narrowed to the Lafayette connector, though that figure is a rough estimate and likely higher that what passenger vehicles would pay, according to consultants who have been hired by the commission to research the project.
Tolls likely could fund $300 million of the 6-mile connector, leaving a funding gap of $430 million that possibly could be filled with local tax revenue, state money, federal loans or a combination of sources, according to the commission's consultants, HNTB.
The ongoing work to upgrade U.S. 90 to interstate standards has involved mainly building frontage roads and overpasses, which reduce the number of intersections where drivers would need to stop for a traffic light.
The state has completed a series of overpass and frontage road projects in recent years and has brought much of the highway up to interstate standards through Iberia and St. Mary parishes.
The 6-mile connector through the city of Lafayette has been a more difficult project to tackle because, unlike a single overpass or frontage road, the portion through Lafayette cannot be broken into smaller, more financially manageable projects.
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