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Monday, Feb. 15, 2016

The Great Divide

City, Allendale residents continue Interstate 49 debate

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CITY, ALLENDALE RESIDENTS CONTINUE INTERSTATE 49 DEBATE

Debate has endured for years as to what should be done to bridge the gap that interrupts Interstate 49, and conversation has heated up again with a series of public comment sessions held in late January. Residents were invited to give their opinion on five possible routes, four of which will bring a direct inner city connection and a fifth that would focus on a loop.

While local organizations such as the Committee of One Hundred, the African American, Greater Shreveport and Bossier chambers of commerces, North Louisiana Economic Partnership and North Shreveport Business Association have endorsed one of the direct connections to bridge the gap, opponents of the inner city connector are against that plan because of the disruption it will cause to residents living in the path and the negative impacts they believe interstate highways cause.

Conversation about I-49 has also become protracted at meetings of the Shreveport City Council and Caddo Parish Commission, which have both considered passing resolutions that establish support for an inner city connector.

The city council’s potential resolution, brought by Councilman Willie Bradford, states, “the only feasible route for this remaining segment of I-49 is the direct route running within a 3.5-mile corridor between the existing intersection with Interstate 20 and the intersection with Interstate 220 presently under construction.”

Bradford’s resolution also states, “the completion of I-49 through Shreveport is vital to the economic development of Northwest Louisiana, as it will attract new businesses and industries to this area and open new markets to existing business and industry.”

“Nobody wants to live by an interstate or up under one,” said Dorothy Wiley, a resident of the Allendale neighborhood who would be impacted by an inner city connector, at the Feb. 4 meeting of the parish commission. “I am only speaking from experience.”

Wiley is the head of Loop-It, a group that has endorsed the alternative of looping the connection for I-49 around the city utilizing La. 3132 and I-220. Wiley also voiced support for the idea of a business boulevard instead of the inner city connector.

“Other cities worldwide are tearing down existing limited access expressways, and they are blocking newly-proposed ones,” Wiley said.

The Rev. Elenora Cushenberry, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, emphasized to the commission if Shreveport were to build the connector, it would be doing the opposite of what she said many other cities are doing for their transportation needs.

“Instability is a major factor in some of our social ills – the instability of families, the instability of children, the instability of neighborhoods,” she said. “Consider other alternatives than destroying lives. How can we build up rather than tear down?” Some residents who would be relocated if the inner city connector is approved and built question where they would go and what their lives would be like if forced to move. Anthony Morgan, an Allendale resident who spoke to the commission, said he felt the neighborhood was being sent a message that it didn’t mean very much.

“At one time, Allendale was, you might say, out there – it might have been a blight on the community with what was going on over there,” Morgan said. “But then through organizations like the Fuller Center, Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal, the churches and the caring people who did want to say, ‘This is our home,’ we reclaimed that area.

“The families are what reclaimed it along with the combination of some city councilmen, elected officials. I guess what I’m getting to is that if we can be packaged and [moved] off as if we don’t matter, then what does matter?” Ultimately, the commission passed the resolution supporting the inner city connector 9-3, though President Matthew Linn expressed dismay.

“This parish and this city doesn’t have half a billion dollars to build that road, and we don’t even have the 20 percent match that it’s going to take to match the federal government, but we are willing to take these citizens and basically de-value the primary investment that they have, and we’re willing to do that without all of the information in front of us?” Linn said. “Shame on us.”

Representatives of the Committee of One Hundred, a nonprofit organization representing members of the local business community, said the connector will bring about revitalization for the entire area and will only result in positive impacts for the residents of Allendale.

“In the Committee of One Hundred’s early discussions, everyone recognized the benefits of having the inner city connector done but was not ignorant or oblivious to the fact that there will be people affected by it,” board member John Peak said. “So it was a critical thing for us to be sure those residents would be treated very fairly.”

Access for the community, Peak said, is the key.

“You give access to that community, and it will all of a sudden make residential living there more attractive – I can get in, I can get out, I have access to jobs, healthcare and all that, and you have one interchange or exit in the path of it,” he said. “You look at just about any other interstate exit, and you’re going to see hotels, gasoline stations, restaurants, businesses. It won’t happen necessarily immediately, but you’ve created that access near downtown, near the casinos.”

Board member Robert Mills said the federal government will provide assistance to those who have to relocate at no cost to the residents.

“Something good’s got to happen to Allendale, and this is going to put millions and millions and millions of dollars into Allendale,” he said. “All the money saved, access to downtown, security for this area – it’s a win-win for the Allendale community, the business community and the residents.”

As for the connector itself, Mills said a direct connection provides the benefits of time, money and economic development.

“It gives us a direct access to downtown from the northwest, and so there’s no question it takes traffic off the Lake Street/Spring Street exit, the worst intersection in the whole city, the highest number of accidents per year,” he said. “It’s going to push development to enlarge this whole western edge of downtown that you hear about all the time, the arts district, everything – it gives us substantially better access to downtown as well as to Allendale.”

Mills said an estimated average of $350 million in economic stimulus is expected to be generated per year due to the connection being completed.

Ross Barrett, president of the Committee of One Hundred, said the loop option is not realistic due to the cost and environmental concerns.

“It goes over the water source for the city and Barksdale Air Force Base,” he said.

Barrett said after a formal designation of which route will be used is made by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, at that point no more building can be done in that pathway. Barrett said the project becomes more expensive the longer it takes to determine a solution.

“Every day that this is delayed, the cost of materials goes up,” he said.

Committee of One Hundred Past President Linda Biernacki said she has heard the best case scenario for finishing the connection, once it is approved, is seven to 10 years.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize that whole entire area,” she said. “This is by far the most important economic decision our community can ever make.”

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