Video: Congressman Mike Johnson and local leaders call on state officials to finish I-49

1763

Bossier City, La. – U.S. Representative Mike Johnson (LA-04) and local leaders held a virtual press conference after sending a letter to Governor John Bel Edwards, Louisiana DOT Secretary Shawn Wilson, Louisiana Division Administrator Wes Bollinger, Providence Engineering Interim CEO Rich Major, and Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments Executive Director Kent Rogers calling to finish I-49 Inner-City Connector Project (ICC) in Shreveport. When finished, the ICC project is estimated to bring in hundreds of millions in annual impact and thousands of new jobs to the region.

The letter highlights concerns with the continued delays in the environmental review process, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to begin construction. This is a multi-step process, and the first major milestone is the preparation of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS). For an average federal highway project, it takes 4 years to produce a draft EIS, and approximately 7.3 years to complete the entire process. Currently, the I-49 project is in its 8th year of this process, and a draft EIS is not expected to be available until mid-2021, over double the amount of time it takes to complete the same process in other parts of the country. The letter calls on state leaders to ensure the project’s EIS is completed quickly and correctly.

“It is becoming clearer by the day that infrastructure investments can be a catalyst for economic growth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The I-49 Inner-City Connector is an ideal project to facilitate the recovery and growth of Northwest Louisiana, but a series of delays in the environmental review process have left us stuck at ‘go’ for over eight years,” Johnson said. “I urge the parties directly involved in this process to move the project forward as quickly as possible, and I will continue to do all within my power to get this major transportation and economic artery completed.”

The speakers at the virtual press conference, in order, included:

*Congressman Johnson
*State Senator Barrow Peacock
*Larry English, Co-Chair, Shreveport Economic Recovery Task Force
*Caddo Parish Commissioner Roy Burrell
*Linda Biernacki, Chair, Shreveport Economic Recovery Task Force, *Transportation Subcommittee
*Tim Magner, President, Shreveport Chamber of Commerce
*Patrick Harrison, Immediate Past President, Shreveport Chamber of Commerce
*Kelvin Sanders, Attorney from Alexandria, La.

Letter:

The Honorable John Bel Edwards Governor
State of Louisiana
P.O. Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804

The Honorable Shawn Wilson
Secretary
Louisiana Dept. of Transportation & Development 1201 Capitol Access Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Rich Major
Interim CEO Providence Engineering 1201 Main Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Wes Bollinger
Louisiana Division Administrator Federal Highway Administration 5304 Flanders Drive, Suite A Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Kent Rogers
Executive Director NLCOG
625 Texas Street, Suite 200 Shreveport, LA 71101

Dear Sirs:

This letter is being sent to express our concerns with the continued delays in the environmental review process for the I-49 Inner-City Connector (ICC) project in Shreveport, and to request your immediate assistance in ensuring the task is completed quickly and correctly.

Though it has long been understood that the ICC is vital to the sustainability and advancement of Northwest Louisiana and the surrounding region, it is even more important today. As our state begins the long and difficult process of rebuilding its economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prioritize key infrastructure projects that will stimulate economic growth and put our people back to work. Completing the ICC will result in an estimated $800 million in annual impact in Louisiana and thousands of new jobs.

As you know, the environmental review process for the I-49 project is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). While this is a federal statute, the leaders of each state typically assume the responsibility of satisfying its requirements, namely preparing a project’s environmental impact statement (EIS). Without an EIS it is not possible to obtain a final Record of Decision (ROD) by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which is necessary to complete a project’s construction.

Although Louisiana has routinely completed an EIS in a timely manner for many other federal/state projects in the past, the ICC has been a frustrating exception. While the community leaders and elected officials signed on to this letter have worked tirelessly for years to advance the ICC, the countless delays and missed deadlines with the EIS have created a roadblock.

By any objective measure, the ICC EIS has been an outlier. More than three years ago, in April 2017, it was estimated and publicly reported that a ROD would be issued by December 2017 or January 2018. Of course, it was not, and many subsequent deadlines for completion have also been missed.

On May 18, 2020, we received word from DOTD that the environmental work for this project would continue through the rest of this year and virtually all next year. Initially forecasting a December 2017 completion date and missing that mark by four years is entirely unacceptable.

When compared to other, even larger projects around the country, the ICC EIS has been an abject failure. From 2010-2017, the national average of the time it took a FHWA project to produce a draft EIS was approximately 4.5 years. Since the ICC EIS formally began in 2012 (when the FHWA issued a notice of intent to prepare it), we are now more than eight years into the project without even a draft EIS in hand.

Since the ICC has already taken twice as long as the national average, we simply cannot afford or tolerate any further delays. The people of Northwest Louisiana deserve better and are desperate for your assistance. The completion of I-49 is key to our region’s revival and growth so that we can fulfill our unlimited potential and reverse our economic slump and crisis of outmigration.

Please help us by confirming in a reply that you will do everything in your power to complete the environmental review as quickly as possible while maintaining the integrity of the process. We also respectfully request your attendance at a public meeting in Northwest Louisiana as soon as that can be arranged so that this important matter can be discussed with all stakeholders.

We stand ready to assist you in any way that we can.