- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - A state transportation official is telling opponents of a conventional interstate highway through Lafayette that they should consider resigning from a design advisory committee.

The Advertiser (http://bit.ly/1OfqTXI ) reports that Toby Picard, who’s managing the design of an Interstate 49 segment near downtown Lafayette, sent the email Tuesday.

Some members of the Community Working Group want to build a boulevard instead of a controlled access highway along part of the segment.

Picard wrote in his email that the 5.5-mile highway segment must meet interstate standards and can’t bypass Lafayette. He said the goal is to “develop a refined concept” for the route.

“We want to ensure that all group members are committed to working together collaboratively toward that end,” he wrote.

He invited members of the committee who can’t live within those parameters to resign by May 15, so the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development can appoint replacements.

The Federal Highway Administration is requiring that the state consider public input in designing the interstate and mitigating problems for surrounding neighborhoods. DOTD and consultants are gathering input from the Community Working Group and neighborhood groups in small meetings. Some people want larger community meetings to air concerns, as well as more public questions and comments.

Committee member John Arceneaux, an advocate for a boulevard, said the state and consultants are trying to avoid a larger discussion about whether residents want an interstate along the current route of the Evangeline Thruway. That was designated as I-49’s future route in 2003.

“They’re trying to get participation in a way that they can go back to the FHWA and say, ‘Everybody who participated felt this is the best way to build the highway,’” Arceneaux said.

Harold Schoeffler, who represents the Sierra Club on the committee, wants the interstate to be built away from Lafayette toward St. Martin Parish on what’s called the Teche Ridge route.

“They’ll have to fire me,” he said when asked if he’d resign.

Picard said that in future meetings, all group members “will have an equal voice,” and meetings will be facilitated “to stay on topic and on time.”

Krista Fontenot, who lives near the proposed connector and represents the LaPlace Neighborhood Coterie on the Community Work Group, said those comments could limit discussion even among committee members.

“Who do they want to talk?” she asked. “They brought us here to talk.”

Committee member Kate Durio said she’d like to hear what the Federal Highway Administration has to say. She says the state is blaming the federal agency for options DOTD doesn’t want to consider, like a boulevard.

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Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com

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