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Is I-69 in doubt?

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Mayor Walker concerned over path through Bossier

Is the future I-69 that could run through Bossier and Caddo Parishes now in doubt of bypassing the area altogether? Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker said it’s a possibility.
Walker is the VP for Louisiana, and previous president, for the I-69 Coalition. He said that if the route does skip Louisiana, it would be down to some upgrades made across the border in the state’s neighbor.

The project was divided up into what are known as SIU (segments of independent utility) that can be built by states individually to link up with the overall project. The current segments that run through Louisiana, specifically in Bossier and Caddo Parishes, are SIU-14, from the Arkansas state line to Haughton, SIU-15, from Haughton to Stonewall, and SIU 16, from Stonewall to Tenaha, Texas.

These segments are the priority corridor outlined by the I-69 coalition.
But Texas is ignoring SIU 16 and instead is upgrading I-59, which could prove to be an alternative that could be then designated as the route for I-69.

“My concern is no work is being done on SIU 16 from Stonewall to Tenaha, Texas,” said Walker. “Texas is doing great work but they’re not getting the environmental study done on that section.”

Walker noted that although the last segment starts at Stonewall and runs to the state line, it is Texas’ responsibility. “They have a committee, but they’re not paying attention to that one segment that connects them with the Arkansas and Louisiana segment,” Walker said.
He is also concerned of a developing pattern where commercial traffic is bypassing the approved corridor. Memphis, Tenn., is a major transportation center for freight with traffic coming out of there along I-30 straight into US Hwy. 59 in Texas.

“If that pattern keeps going then it is established and they’ll bypass southeast Arkansas and Louisiana,” Walker explained. “Credit to Texas, they’re putting their money where their mouth is by upgrading to interstate standards.”

“There are signs up in Texarkana that say ‘I-69’ right now,” Walker said.
Moreover, Walker said he fears that the cost of a new bridge over the Mississippi River could cause the route to change.

“The cost of that bridge is $1.2 billion and I can see in the future where, politically, because of the expense, that bridge won’t be built. And then the Arkansas links would be bypassed and it would mess up the Louisiana links,” he explained.

So what can be done to try and ensure Louisiana isn’t frozen out? Walker said the best option would be to build a segment. Specifically, one that would be of use until it can be tied into the project at-large.

He recommended SIU-15 that would run from Haughton to the Port of Caddo-Bossier, saying, “If we could come up with the construction money, we could build SIU-15 from Haughton through the Port, and that segment would be another bridge over the Red River, which would also provide us a tie-in to I-49.”

Mayor Walker sent a letter to Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson on June 14 requesting a Record of Decision on SIU-16. Walker also noted the state has completed records of decision for SIU-14 and -15.

However, he noted that the area is fortunate to be included on the corridor. He noted that the state only has to fund 20 percent of the cost, and while vital to the area, the portion is only 95 miles.

“It’s a lot less expensive because we have such a small portion and it still keeps us tied in,” Walker said. With the much discussed infrastructure bill of President Donald Trump’s administration, Walker notes it could help make the project a reality. But he said ominously that the money is a waste if that last segment isn’t given attention.

“No doubt it could benefit the whole program. But if we don’t get our records of decision and environmental studies done, there’s no construction. If we get that done, then we can get some of the money our president is talking about.”

Sean Green
sean@bossierpress.com