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I-49 connector, not loop, best for Shreveport

Last month, a series of public meetings gave Shreveport residents a chance to deliver input (and they still may do so online until Feb. 8 here) concerning the largest capital project in city history that will shape its contours for decades to come.

Until the past couple of years, consensus seemed to appear that the Interstate 49 connector would route through the heart of the city, the Allendale neighborhood (and a bit of Ledbetter Heights). But then some residents, nonprofit organizations operating in the area, and interests allied with them raised sufficient protest that authorities added a fifth option to the four that varied little in proximity. This one abandons the idea of going through the inner city and incorporates existing Louisiana Highway 3132 and Interstate 220 as the path to the southern end of existing I-49 at I-220.

Nowthe time has come to pick the final route, which requires another round of public input. Essentially, it has become a choice between the “loop,” which on it alone would require little in the way of construction and therefore not a great cost, or any of the other four alternatives, very similar to each other but would cost at least $300 million, displace a portion of the 4,000 or so people living in Allendale (down from over 16,000 in 1970) and a few businesses in an area that does not feature many to begin with (half of the property in the area is adjudicated), and go against the grain of recent nonprofit efforts and the city to build housing.

While the city will not pay anything for the construction, many of its citizens pay state and federal taxes to support the construction spending. Although local users’ total contribution would be relatively small, less than one percent in tax dollars, the loop would save them a little. This plan certainly would minimize disruption, for the history of building elevated expressways through both Shreveport and in many metropolitan areas shows permanent cumulative damage to those neighborhoods at least as often as their revitalization or spurring new economic growth.

Yet at the same time Allendale, even if things have improved marginally from what may have been its nadir around the turn of the millennium, has gone up in quality of life only because it came from rock bottom. While slashing through the neighborhood, even if large expanses at its southern end next to where I-49 now stops basically contain nothing livable or commercial, might set back the progress made in a few areas, the chances that the connector might spur greater development of now generally extremely low-use land seem better.

The connector has another advantage with its externalities outside of the neighborhood. Shreveport’s downtown limps along in development partly because of the Youree/Spring/Market streets bottlenecks north and south and the Red River blockading on the east. Having I-49 buzz by next to it on the west creates two interstate entrances and could solve for the area’s persistent inability to push past the Municipal Auditorium.

It also could bring other benefits compared to the loop idea. A connector would relieve congestion once I-49 from the north connects with I-220. The increased traffic that brings would have some of that veer off through downtown, congesting that worse, and the remainder using I-220, which, because that would have to go over Cross Lake, may cause the need for additional construction and/or increase environmental problems in the city’s water supply. Finally, while completion of I-49 using the loop would bring over $500 million in development to the area, the connector studies forecast would escalate that figure to over $800 million.

Perhaps a hollowed-out Allendale, let’s say, has doubled in livability over the past 15 years. However, as it had gotten so beaten down, in an absolute sense it remains quite depressed. And it seems more likely to advance further away from that status, even with reduction of its footprint, with a higher ceiling than what the current environment there seems to indicate as possible. Maybe emblematic of its limited potential without a jumpstart like the connector, even with the intrusiveness, is the recent shutting down of the zone’s largest and most modern economic engine, Millennium Studios.

The connector will change people’s lives and relationships. Most of the few existing businesses and community organizations in the area will suffer setbacks, if not dismantling, because of the connector. Financial compensation will come the affected individuals’ way, but money will not make up for everything lost by these people. But many of them overall will end up with better lives as a result, and the entire community as a whole will benefit with a likely stronger and healthier area. In the aggregate, picking the connector offers the most relative gain for Shreveport.

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