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Three States to Feel Effect of Louisiana Corridor Project

Thu December 22, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Lori Lovely

When completed, 36 mi. (60 km) of new four-lane interstate will extend I-49 North from I-220 in Shreveport to the Arkansas state line. Divided into 11 segments (A to K), the project is estimated to be completed sometime in 2016 at a cost of $622 million.

Referred to in Louisiana as the North-South Expressway, this new segment will be a divided, fully controlled access highway with a 4-ft. (1.2 m) inside shoulder and a 10-ft. (3 m) outside shoulder in Caddo Parish, La. It will end at the Arkansas state line at a point intended to align with the planned orientation of the highway north of the state line, as specified in the Final Environmental Impact Statement from Texarkana, Ark., to the Louisiana state line.

Long-Term Plans and Goals

“This project has been a long time in planning,” confirmed Amber Herbert, public information officer of LA DOT. “Shreveport is an important link in the Louisiana transportation network … and nationally.”

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department first studied the possibility of a northern extension of I-49 in 1988 as part of a multi-state effort. The study was prepared in response to Section 166 of the 1987 Surface Transportation Act, with the purpose of examining the economic feasibility of constructing a highway to interstate standards between Shreveport and Kansas City, Mo.

Results indicated that a highway would provide significant benefits to all three states.

In the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, Congress designated the extension of I-49 from Shreveport to Kansas City as High Priority Corridor 1. The ultimate goal is to develop a transcontinental corridor linking the Gulf Coast with the central United States and Canada in order to support international and domestic commerce and tourism. From Kansas City, I-29 completes the link to Canada, crossing the border just south of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“In addition to providing direct access to Arkansas, the I-49 corridor would link major transportation hubs in the metro area,” Herbert said, “such as a regional airport and two railroads. It also will improve efficiency for industries dependent upon trucking by facilitating the shipment of raw materials and finished products.”

In fact, the principal purpose of the I-49 corridor is to improve system linkage and accessibility in support of international and domestic commerce and tourism, according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation (LA DOT). Currently, a gap exists in the north-south interstate network between I-35 and I-55 (a distance of approximately 400 mi. [644 km]). Development of this corridor will fill the gap and augment the interstate system serving the Midwest and other central states. For example, in Kansas City, I-49 would link with Interstates 29 and 70 and intersect with six east-west interstates (Interstates 10, 20, 30, 40, 44 and 70). Linkage with Interstates 80, 90 and 94 also would be made via I-29 and I-35 north of Kansas City.

Rural communities in the corridor also will benefit through improved access to employment and services in the Shreveport metropolitan area, as well as decreased emergency response times. Furthermore, safety will be enhanced when traffic shifts from the existing two-lane and four-lane conventional highways to the new interstate. The crash rate on interstate highways in rural Louisiana is about one-half that of two-lane facilities.

In addition to expediting travel through linking major roadways, the I-49 extension will alleviate current and projected congestion on a number of existing highways in the corridor. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD) completed a detailed feasibility study for the 36-mi. (58 km) section from I-220 to the Arkansas state line in 1995. This study included a comprehensive traffic analysis, an examination of existing environmental information and public information meetings. Analyses predict volumes of more than 37,000 vehicles per day just north of I-220 to more than 10,700 vehicles per day at the state line in 2020, more than 60 percent of which consists of trucks.

Because the new route will shift traffic, the LA DOT expects a reduction in the rate of deterioration of existing highways in the corridor. According to them, “the larger project, from Shreveport to Kansas City, yields a substantial decrease in vehicle-miles traveled for both autos and trucks. This reduction will have a positive impact on the rate of deterioration of highway infrastructure in the corridor region.”

Development of this corridor is expected to yield national savings by 2030 of 1.7 billion auto miles traveled, nearly 250 million truck miles traveled, more than 26 million vehicle hours for autos and 5 million vehicle hours for trucks, due to reduced travel times and distances. By reducing vehicle miles traveled, the project will enable substantial fuel savings as well as reductions in air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Dollars and Sense

Another advantage of the project is an expected increase of 5,687 jobs, $596 million in gross state product and $1.26 billion in personal income by 2039. A recent analysis indicates that completing I-49 North from Shreveport to Kansas City will yield between $17 billion and $36 billion in benefits over a 20-year period.

But, as the saying goes, it takes money to make money. The estimated cost to build I-49 North is $622 million.

“We have approximately $460 million in federal earmarks and state matching funds have been secured for I-49 North,” Herbert said. “That includes roughly $300 million in federal highway funds, with more than $47 million coming from ARRA formula funds, along with $140 million in state funds.”

The total unfunded amount necessary to complete the remaining two segments (segments J to K, those closest to Shreveport) of I-49 North is approximately $160 million.

“The Governor promised funding for it in 2008,” Herbert stated.

Gov. Jindal is reported to be considering a bonding initiative and 2012 capital outlay funding for the final two segments.

J would be a complete bond, K would be partially bonded and use other funding. The governor announced in January that he, in conjunction with I-49 north Task Force officials, area legislators and local officials, is pursuing legislation to bond out $7.5 million in order to invest the estimated $60 million needed to fully construct segment J. Depending on conditions of the financial market, this bonding effort could generate $87 million — $27 million more than would be needed for Segment J, leaving additional funds for Segment K.

In May, Gov. Jindal made another announcement that his 2012 capital outlay bill will include an additional $73 million to completely fund Segment K ($27 million in bonding surplus plus $73 million in capital outlay), which would cover the $100 million estimated cost of the final section.

Progress Report

All of the land except for the two segments closest to Shreveport has been purchased, Louisiana Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas told The Times. For all but those two segments, the utility relocation and “clearing and grubbing” has been done, Herbert reported. Three contracts for clearing and embankment totaling $19.3 million have been completed on I-49 North from the Arkansas line to Mira-Myrtis Road (segments A and B). However, she added, not all segments completed a clearing and embankment contract prior to road construction. “With most segments, clearing and embankment work was included in the same paving contract.”

Eight of the nine funded segments have paving projects underway, to the tune of $259.7 million. Segments A (from LA 168 to the Arkansas line) and C (from LA 2 to Mira-Myrtis Road) are substantially complete, pending landscaping. Segment A, began in February 2009, cost $20.9 million and includes paving and building bridges. Segment C, began in August 2008, involved clearing, paving and building bridges, at a cost of $19.4 million.

Segment B (Mira-Myrtis Road to LA 168) began in May 2009 and is scheduled to be complete in summer 2011. This project is being entirely paid for by federal stimulus funds.

Segment D (from U.S. 71S to LA 2) began in November 2009 and is scheduled to be complete in early 2012. It includes clearing, paving and building bridges, at a cost of $41.6 million. Similarly, contracts to clear, pave and build bridges from LA 170 to U.S. 71S (segment E) for $38.9 million, to clear and pave from LA 173 to LA 169 (segment H) for $10.1 million and to clear, pave and build bridges from LA 1 to LA 173 (segment I) for $60.7 million began in 2010, with E scheduled to continue until 2013, H expected to complete this winter and I expected to finish in spring 2013.

Segment G from LA 169 to LA 530 was awarded on Dec. 10, 2010 for $36.4 million and also includes clearing, paving and building bridges. Work began in March 2011 and should be complete in spring 2013. A $25.7 million project to clear, pave and build bridges from LA 530 to LA 170 (segment F) was let on December 15, 2010. Work began in May 2011 and is expected to continue until spring 2013.

Construction is expected to begin on Segment J in summer 2012 and segment K as early as summer 2013, with final completion of I-49 North as early as 2016.

The LA DOTD is using the traditional design-bid-build method to complete the remaining segments of the project. However, cost-plus-time (A+B) bidding procedures with contract time on a calendar day basis will be used and incentives for early completion will be included. The design-build method was considered but rejected as right-of-way acquisition is the key activity in the critical path.

Contracts for the 11 segments have been awarded to different contractors, although James Construction is working on four of them, Herbert noted. The various sections are at different stages of construction. While bulldozers are clearing trees to make way for pavement and embanking in one segment, workers may be rerouting underground utilities in another and crews could be renovating pasture land with soil cement to prepare a foundation for pavement in yet another area. CEG

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