Louisiana Freeway Project Faces Civil Rights Investigation

An interstate project decades in the making is being investigated by federal authorities for claims that it would perpetuate historically racist land use patterns.

2 minute read

March 5, 2023, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Close-up of Interstate 49 sign on road map

SevenMaps / Interstate 49

A federal civil rights investigation could alter the design of an interstate expansion project in Lafayette, Louisiana that has been ongoing for four decades. As Stephen Marcantel reports in The Current, if a similar case in Houston is any indication, the I-49 Connector project will likely go forward with changes and mitigation measures.

The investigation is the result of a resident complaint claiming that “the Connector’s path was laid along lines drawn in a 1923 ordinance that bisected Lafayette into white and Black communities” and would perpetuate the inequities created by the city’s historic segregation policies.

The case highlights the ongoing struggle of urban communities to gain recognition of the damage caused by freeway construction, despite federal initiatives like the Reconnecting Communities Act. However, “Some argue the Connector itself represents a way to fix a broken situation along the Thruway. Neighborhoods there have been in limbo for decades, lacking investment while the project hung in the air incomplete.” Shawn Wilson, outgoing director of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and a supporter of the project, wrote in a statement, “While I understand this project will not meet the approval of everyone, and some opponents will go to great lengths to stop it, one thing we know for sure is that doing nothing is an unacceptable alternative.”

Federal officials could, like in the Houston case, require a range of changes to the plan, including “Air quality monitoring, sound barriers for neighborhoods, lighting and sidewalks for improved pedestrian safety, flood mitigation, connecting neighborhoods, improving public transit and creating green spaces.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2023 in The Current

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