Mills: The high cost of doing nothing

When inaction causes a loss of money or value it is called an “opportunity loss.” By not completing the construction of  I-49 via Route 1 of the Inner City Connector (ICC), local businesses, the transportation industry, the traveling public and especially northwest Louisiana residents are losing more than $2 million per day!  That staggering loss includes the value of travel time, vehicle operation cost savings, differentials in economic output from real estate development, and impacts from differentials in agglomeration economies.  This fact is reported in the January 2016 report by Taimerica Management Company titled “Economic Impacts of I-49 Completion,” which was conducted at the request of Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG).  To access the full report use the following link: www.I49Shreveport.com_Site_documents.html.

After six public presentations of the extensive studies with detailed and elaborate displays of information covering all five possible routes to traverse Shreveport, 94 percent of the voting public elected to proceed with completing I-49 via one of the four ICC Routes, each approximately 4-miles in length.  After additional consideration and discussion NLCOG met publicly on Aug. 18, 2017 and voted by a strong majority to declare ICC Route 1 as the locally preferred route for the completion of I-49.  To be able to actually buy the required right of ways ahead of any construction requires a formal “Record of Decision” (ROD) from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and to get that is an 8-step process to be conducted by the State of Louisiana who acts as an agent for the FHWA in these matters. The steps must be completed consecutively, not concurrently and in 2017 it was estimated by the Louisiana Department of Transportation (LDOTD) and FWHA that the complete 8-step process would take at least 12 months and that Step 1 could take four to six months to complete.  We are now at 15 months and counting, waiting on just the first step to be completed.

Step 1 is a Cultural Resources Survey (CRS) to be conducted on the land and affected houses recording their historical value within the proposed Route 1.  The survey is conducted by the Louisiana Department of Cultural Development acting as the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) through two of its offices, the Division of Archaeology and the Division of Historic Preservation.  All of this falls under the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism headed by Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser.  The contractor hired by NLCOG to handle the I-49 completion process studied Route 1 and including an interchange at Ford Street estimated there would be 79 houses, three churches, three recreational areas, and three businesses that would have to be appraised, purchased, and relocated under the Federal Program 42 USC Ch. 61, which was established to do just those things.  We have heard unofficially that the CRS over this one mile section of Route 1 has ballooned to some 3,000 pages.

Could the team conducting the CRS be using standards in excess of normal? Could that exaggerate the historical significance of the structures affected?  Could opponents to the completion of I-49 have somehow affected the reasonable and efficient completion of the task at hand?  We can’t say, but by copy of this commentary to the Lt. Governor and NLCOG we ask everyone involved to take note of this delay and complete Step 1 moving right into Step 2 and the remainder until we have a formal Record of Decision.  All rules must be followed but no interference should be allowed.

What we are left with today will not work for the long term.  The I-220 Bridge over Cross Lake is not designed for the increased traffic count resulting from diverted I-49 traffic.  Louisiana Highway 3132 cannot handle the anticipated traffic and the current exit from southbound 3132 onto I-49 South crossing over the Linwood entry ramp is extremely dangerous, even with today’s lower traffic count. We need to finish building I-49 via the ICC Route 1 as soon as possible.

Completion of I-49 via the ICC will promote safe highway travel, reduce travel time, expenses and emissions, while improving access to Downtown Shreveport and its surrounds.  The Taimerica report also indicates completion will encourage new development in the Allendale and Lakeside neighborhoods. Due respect and concern must be shown for persons relocated by our progress, but north Louisiana simply can’t afford the high cost of doing nothing.

Robert M. Mills,
Chairman of the Economic Development Committee
Committee of 100, Inc. Shreveport-Bossier