Filling the Gap: Will I 49 go through Shreveport, or around?

Closing the I-49 Gap: The debate wages as public meetings are announced

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - We could be just months away from a major decision being made about the future of I-49 through Shreveport.

I-49 northbound comes to an end at I-20. And 3 and a half miles north, as the crow flies, the final link of I-49 north is being built, connecting it to the I-220 loop. That leaves a gap between I-20 and I-220.

"The majority of the people want to know, what's going to happen to me," says Kent Rogers, Executive Director of the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments. NLCOG is looking at five options. Four of the proposed paths cut through either the Allendale or Ledbetter Heights neighborhoods. Preliminary engineering reports on those four are already in. The fifth option would use the the existing path of Louisiana Highway 3132 and the Interstate 220 loop on the north side of Shreveport. The preliminary report on that option is due this spring. And once all reports are in, we should see another series of public meetings before the voting members of NLCOG decide.

"We had 12 meetings and public outreach sessions," adds Rogers, explaining how public input was heavily considered before putting this in the hands of engineers to put together environmental studies on all of the options.

With four of the five proposed paths cutting through just west of downtown, much focus has been on the impact of the neighborhoods."About half of the property is this area is adjudicated property, " says Rogers.  He adds any homeowners displaced due to the construction of an I-49 inner city connector, could easily be located to other parts of Allendale, if they desired to say in the neighborhood.

"This is a win win for the city," says State Representative Roy Burrell. "But we need leadership to move it forward."

Rep. Burrell has been a strong proponent of getting this inner connector built through town.

"Our past administration was against I-49 coming through." Burrell claims allowing the Shreveport Housing Authority to rebuild a housing complex directly in the way of multiple proposed paths was purposeful.  And Rogers admits the new construction forced the NLCOG to consider additional options to avoid it, if possible.

"We weren't fully aware of how extensive their development was at the time. But they've always stated that's our property and we're going to do what we want to do with our property," adds Rogers.

NLCOG came up with their fourth downtown option in an attempt to bypass the new housing construction. However it would take out a number of churches up and down Allen Avenue.

After numerous attempts to talk to the Shreveport Housing Authority, the interim director put us in contact with Houston attorney Toni Jackson who handles many of the housing authority's interests.

"For us to build somewhere else isn't an option," stated Jackson.  "The housing authority doesn't own vacant land somewhere else."

Jackson added she doesn't consider highway proposals as concrete plans, and they shouldn't have to wait on NLCOG, the highway department or any other agency.

Some of the housing units have been completed and are already being leased. They are meant to replace the Naomi Jackson Heights government housing, torn down a decade ago. That complex housed 270 units.  But KSLA News 12 has learned of the 120 units being built now at the Renaissance at Allendale, only 30 of them are full fledged government housing.

And when asked if they were worried the Renaissance at Allendale could be bought out and torn down just a few years after being built for the construction of I-49, Jackson responded, "No. We don't have any reason to believe that."

More concern exists in north Allendale. That's where the Fuller Center for Housing and the non profit Community Renewal have both constructed dozens of homes, affordable housing, for many families who qualified for a modified or low mortgage arrangement. But now all four downtown proposals would impact their years of work and the families who earned the right to move into those homes.

"If I-49 comes through here, we're going to displace all these homeowners," says Lee Jeter, executive director of the Fuller Center for Housing.

Jeter adds its very confusing since the city just donated the land to them a handful of years ago, only to find out they may now be in the bulls eye.

"Why did we do this? Why make investments? Why did you ever give us the land if you're going to take it away from us 10 years later," questions Jeter.

Jeter favors the 'Loop it' option, the fifth proposal being considered.

"You don't just go and throw up signs and call it an interstate," says Rogers.

He pointed out that engineers have already suggested that many parts of the 3132 Inner Loop and the I-220 loop would have to be rebuilt or widened, including what could be a very complicated expansion of the Cross Lake bridge.

To learn more about what 'Loop It' supporters feel about the fifth proposal, click here: https://www.facebook.com/LoopIt49 . And for more information of the original four proposed plans to build the I-49 inner connector through town, click here: http://www.i49shreveport.com/Site/

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