Closing the I-49 Gap: Finding out how to finish I-49

Closing the I-49 Gap: The debate wages as public meetings are announced
Published: Nov. 24, 2015 at 9:38 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 25, 2015 at 1:48 AM CST
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SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - It's a decision that has loomed over the city of Shreveport for years. Do we close the gap on I-49 in town by constructing a 3 and a half mile inner city connector straight through town, or loop it around the town?

"We already have homes built up in here," points out  Allendale resident Dorothy Wiley.

She moved into Allendale after Hurricane Katrina pushed her out a decade ago.

"They can't see the progress," says Wiley when talking about anyone on the outside of Allendale who hasn't taken the time to drive through her neighborhood, just west of downtown.

Wiley is upset over the fact 4 of the 5 proposed paths to connect I-49 from where it dead ends at I-20 to where it picks up again on I-220 in north Shreveport, cuts right through Allendale. The fifth proposed path was a late comer, only added in the last couple of years. Many upset with an interstate cutting through Allendale have suggested plotting I-49 to follow the same path that LA 3132 and I-220 take around the west side of Shreveport.

"They need to come and look and just not be on the outside making their comments," adds Wiley.

Engineering and environmental firm Providence was tasked by the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments to examine all aspects of completing this missing link of I-49. According to their projections, constructing an inner city connector through Allendale would generate over $860 million.

"What they have on paper is a lie," snaps Allendale resident Middie Farrow, who was sharing a front porch for Wiley's interview.

But State Representative Roy Burrell believes in the numbers.

"I'm a mathematician. So to me, the numbers don't lie," says Burrell.

The lawmaker, who leaves his post in 2016 after not running for re-election, previously pointed out to KSLA News 12 that he feels previous city leaders have attempted to block the inner city connector from ever being built.

"What better way than to block it," remarked Burrel back in February during our initial 'Closing the Gap' special report. He was referring to former Mayor Cedric Glover allowing an apartment complex, with minimal government-assisted housing available, to build right in front of where I-49 dead ends into I-20.  The next complex is being built on the same stretch of land where a government subsidized housing project was demolished years before.

Wiley feels an interstate would destroy the progress she's seen in Allendale, namely on the north end of the neighborhood. That's where the Fuller Center for Housing and Community Renewal have built dozens of affordable housing for families in need of help. But others argue those 4 or 5 blocks of construction doesn't overcome the other 20 plus blocks south, back to I-20, that are littered with vacant lots and boarded up buildings.

"That population in Allendale was at 16,000 at one particular time," says retired educator and local demographer Versa Clark. "It's down to 4,000 now."

Clark says the troubling decline in Allendale can't be blamed on an interstate that has not even been built yet.

Repeated attempts to talk on the record with Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler have been declined. In February, Tyler's office passed on the opportunity, citing Tyler had just been elected into the office and needed more time to study the issues. 9 months later, her office again decline to talk, electing to wait until after the new round of public meetings scheduled for January 19 through the 22.

"I-49 is one of the few unfinished interstates in America and the most ready to be finished," Lafayette, LA mayor Joey Durel tells KSLA News 12.

His city was faced with the identical debate, how to connect I-49 which dead ends at I-10 to the rest of the proposed stretch of I-49 south of the city that will eventually stretch all the way to New Orleans.

"Somebody asked a question at a public meeting many years ago, 'What's going to happen to our town when this highway comes through'," remembers Durel. "And somebody wisely said, 'You ought to worry about what's happening to your neighborhood now, without the highway'."

Durel says Lafayette will build it's 4 mile stretch of interstate straight through town, along the current LA 90 corridor. He adds they will elevate the entire stretch of interstate so it does not cut off neighborhoods.

"This is an opportunity to revitalize it," brags Durel. He says gone are the days of just slapping down concrete in the middle of cities or neighborhoods and calling it an interstate. He says there are ways to do what needs to be done without tearing your city apart.

"We can use the mistakes of the 70's, lessons learned from the 70's. There are different ways of doing things now."

The director for the Center of Community Renewal, Kim Mitchell, whose organization has home in Allendale in the path of proposed routes, supports loop it.

He's also written blogs calling inner city connectors "destructive," and even suggests the NLCOG may be intentionally manipulating the public to destroy inner city neighborhoods.

We've repeatedly asked Mitchell of an interview, but he's declined.

Monday, a series of public hearings were announced that will be held from January 19 - 22.

The Shreveport Chamber of Commerce director says they endorse the inner city connector.

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