Shreveport residents have three chances this week to provide feedback on the plans to build an Interstate 49 inner-city connector. Attendees can come and go freely during the two hour open house style meetings.
There are four proposed paths for new construction, plus a no-build option on the table.
Currently, the plan calls for a new elevated highway- approximately 3.6 miles long and costing up to an estimated $300 million- to connect the I-49/I-20 interchange with I-49 North near Interstate 220.
However, a growing group of residents in the Allendale neighborhood have organized against the potential new construction. Instead, they want to utilize the current loop around Shreveport westbound on I-20 and I-220 to I-49N. These homeowners say the longer route will actually save money while saving their homes.
"Don't displace your people just to make this out a raceway for cars to get to somewhere," says Allendale resident Dorothy Wiley. "There are other ways to do it."
Wiley made Shreveport her home after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans. The proposed I-49 connector could force her- and her neighbors- on the road again. Wiley says she spent time building up this neighborhood and is skeptical she would find a comparable replacement if relocated.
"All it's gonna do is put us in another old, torn-down neighborhood where we'll have to come in as citizens and rebuild, meet new neighbors, and start over again," Wiley says.
Concerned by the plans, Wiley and other Allendale residents reached out to Shreveport architect Kim Mitchell for guidance.
"Nowhere in the history of the interstate system has an interstate gone through a neighborhood and done anything than make that neighborhood worse," Mitchell says. "I don't quite understand why in our public process, the citizens of Shreveport haven't been told that. Particularly the ones to be most affected in Allendale."
Mitchell says New Orleans and Portland, Oregon, are both trying to demolish elevated highways like the one proposed for Shreveport. He says such structures are visually unappealing and have far-reaching social implications.
"Traditionally, it has been an issue of separating 'haves' from 'have-nots,' which it really did on I-49 South," Mitchell says.
Those who oppose the elevated highway suggest looping I-49 'through traffic' around Shreveport either on Highway 3132 and I-220- a roughly 14-mile-long journey- or farther north on I-20 to I-220- which runs about 12.3 miles. Mitchell says this would save millions of dollars in construction costs that could be reinvested on US 171/North Market Street for local business traffic.
Louisiana Representative Roy Burrell says revenue is one of the main motivators for the project. He estimates the roadway could bring upwards of $600 million a year through Shreveport, instead of around it.
"This is all new money," Burrell says. "This is not re-churned money from Shreveport or the local area. This is actually new money coming from the north and from the south, that's passing through Shreveport."
Furthermore, Burrell argues this area is economically depressed, without much hope for redevelopment from within.
"There's just been no will to put money back into these areas," Burrell says. "You have a couple of projects right now, but that's only launched since we started working on and re-studying the corridor."
Burrell is referring to the dozens of homes built by The Fuller Center, a non-profit started by Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller. Burrell says The Fuller Center built houses in the collidor's path knowing that future demolition and relocation were possibilites.
"We warned them early on that there's a possibility the I-49 connector would be restudied and built, but they built anyway in the potential path," Burrell says.
Wiley lives in one of these homes and says there was no such warning.
"We were not told that, and I don't think they [The Fuller Center] would have wasted this much money to build up this community," Wiley says. "No, we were never told that, and who would just throw away that much money? I'm going to be honest here. Politicians are the ones who would do that."
Wiley wants Shreveport residents to ask for the no-build option, relying on the current route of sending traffic west around Shreveport on I-20 and I-220.
Kent Rogers with the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments says public comments at this week's meeting will be included in a final proposal presented to the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Highways Administration, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
If authorities move forward with the connector, Rogers says crews could break ground as early as Winter 2013.
If an overwhelming majority of residents pick the no-build option, engineers will research and study the loop idea more in-depth.
The first meeting is 6-8 p.m. today (Tuesday, Dec. 11) at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church at 1558 Buena Vista Street.
Wednesday, Dec. 12, residents will meet at 11 a.m. at Mount Canaan Baptist Church at 1666 Alston St.
Thursday, Dec. 13, residents will meet at noon at the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce at 400 Edwards St.
For more information on the proposal, visit www.I49shreveport.com.
Kim Mitchell has a blog about city planning where he regularly posts opposition against the elevated highway, and projects like it. You can read those entries on the website www.s-cntp-infrastructure.posterous.com.