Status: Study and review
Originally reported cost: $547 million to $640 million
Update for current status:
As of September 2023, the I-49 Inner City Connection project is in study and review.
Update from Highway Boondoggles 8, Fall 2023.
Planning advances despite local pushback.
Highway Boondoggles 4 in 2018 covered the I-49 Inner-City Connector, a $600 million highway project that would extend for 3.5 miles through a residential area in Shreveport, La., slicing through the historic neighborhood of Allendale and requiring the demolition of homes and a church.
In our last update in 2022, the I-49 project was still in the process of planning and drafting its environmental impact statement (EIS). The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LaDOTD) originally proposed four possible routes through Allendale. Since then, a fifth route that connects LA 3121 to I-220 has been proposed and studied.
As noted in our last update, residents of Allendale have proposed an alternative project: upgrading Route 71, already used by drivers to connect to I-49, into a multiuse “business boulevard.” According to community group Allendale Strong, this would cost just a fraction of the cost of the I-49 cut-through, while strengthening existing communities and bolstering local businesses. As of September 2023, although the Federal Highway Administration requires all “reasonable alternatives to be considered,” the Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG) continues to refuse to add this proposed boulevard to the scope of the project.
However, in 2023, after fierce opposition from residents concerned about the highway’s environmental and community impacts, NLCOG’s Transportation Policy Committee suggested another alternative route – 3A – presented as an alternative that would minimize the damage inflicted on the Allendale neighborhood.
However, Allendale residents continue to oppose the I-49 Inner-City Connector project, arguing that Alternative 3A does little to reduce the impacts that the community would suffer compared to current plans. These new plans would not completely spare Allendale: The construction of Inner-City Connector would be a blight on the neighborhood, both visually and by bringing increased air and noise pollution to every home in the area.
Furthermore, while the proposed new route avoids Allendale, it runs over Shreveport’s Cross Bayou and cuts through St. Paul’s Bottoms Historic District. It will also impact the Downtown Shreveport Commercial Historic District and runs adjacent to – just a few feet from – the McNeil Street Pumping Station, a museum and former water station designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Alternative 3A also appears to cut through the Choice Neighborhoods Bayou Grande Apartments, a new 500-unit housing project awarded $24.2 million through federal grants to spur workforce development in Shreveport’s Central Business District, Allendale and Ledbetter Heights. Residents have also expressed concerns that it would, among other things, block access to housing for older and disabled residents as well as local families, and argued that the project continues the legacy of imposing infrastructure development on low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color.
From the outset, LaDOTD leaders have expressed concerns over the giant price tag. By 2021 the project was expected to cost $500 million to $600 million, of which only about $100 million had been allocated. In September 2022, however, LaDOTD secretary Shawn Wilson suggested the cost could be up to $865 million. With over $6 billion in highway funding flowing to Louisiana through the IIJA over five years, LaDOTD has signaled that I-49 will be one of the projects to benefit from the grants. IIJA funding has already been allocated for nearby road projects in Shreveport, and with LaDOTD clearly eyeing IIJA funds, it is possible that the Inner-City Connector could be in line for an influx of IIJA dollars in the near future.
Original story from Highway Boondoggles 4, 2018:
Louisiana officials are making plans to build an expensive highway that will harm a community, reminiscent of highway projects that devasted urban areas in the middle of the 20th century. The plan is to spend $547 million to $640 million building a new 3.5-mile cut-through section of Interstate 49 that will divide the northern section of Shreveport. A loop interstate already exists around Shreveport and is the “no build option”.
The new section of highway would cut through the middle of the neighborhood of Allendale. All of the cut-through routes proposed so far would require demolishing at least one church and at least 50 homes. Unsurprisingly, many residents have expressed outrage over the plan, for which state officials were drafting an environmental impact statement as of November 2017.
The proposed highway could have costs beyond the damage to a community. Research has shown that road-centric development tends to be less valuable from a tax-base standpoint than the older, denser development that gets replaced. And a number of studies have found that building highways does not generate new economic growth – it merely redistributes economic activity from city centers to new-build suburbs or from one town to another. In fact, some studies on sprawl have found evidence of enormous harm to the economy – a 2015 study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that urban sprawl costs the U.S. economy $1 trillion each year as a result of costs including greater spending on infrastructure, public service delivery, and transportation.
Residents of Allendale have proposed an alternative project: Upgrading Route 71, which is already used by drivers to connect to I-49, into a multiuse “business boulevard.” According to the community group #AllendaleStrong, such a project would cost just a fraction of the cost of the I-49 cut-through, while strengthening existing communities and bolstering local businesses.
Meanwhile, funding is needed for other important transportation projects in both Shreveport and around the state, including:
- Repairing aging roads and bridges. More than 60 percent of Louisiana roads are in poor or mediocre condition. And Louisiana ranks second in the country in structurally deficient bridges, based on square footage of bridge deck.
- Creating a smarter transportation network. In 2016, Shreveport applied for grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Among the improvements envisioned for the city are new electric vehicle charging stations, a new “electric taxi circulator station” that would be a hub for electric, shared transportation, and new systems to make the bus system more efficient and more responsive to riders’ needs.
Not only would the I-49 project likely fail to achieve its economic promises, it would also add to Louisiana’s already-growing highway debt. As of the end of 2015, Louisiana had $3.4 billion in highway debt, nearly 11 times more than at the end of 2000, not adjusted for inflation. And in 2014, Louisiana spent $310 million on highway debt service, six times more than in 2000. Further debt could complicate Louisiana’s already-difficult budget situation, as the state is facing the prospect of credit rating downgrades in the face of a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall in the 2019 fiscal year.