Bill to fund Louisiana's I-49 moves to governor

| Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Louisiana Senate has approved a plan to set aside money to complete the state’s portion of Interstate 49.

Senators voted 37-1 on June 16 to advance the bill to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who has endorsed the legislation. The bill unanimously passed the House in May.

Sponsored by Rep. Billy Montgomery, D-Haughton, the bill would allow as much as $15 million dollars annually from unclaimed property funds in the state to be used to help pay off loans to complete unfinished stretches of the interstate from New Orleans to the Arkansas border.

Unclaimed property funds are turned over to the state by businesses when the rightful private owners cannot be found.

Supporters of the bill – HB654 – said the money borrowed through bonds would be used to lessen the need for federal dollars, The Times-Picayune reported. The total I-49 funding – which could be as much as $750 million – would be split evenly to the north and south portions.

Those stretches run north from I-20 in Shreveport to the Arkansas line and south from I-10 in Lafayette to the West Bank Expressway in New Orleans.

The revenue would be used for I-49 when the federal government puts up money for construction. Approval of the state Bond Commission would then be needed before the bonds could be sold.

In related news, a three-state coalition met this spring in Kansas City, MO, to discuss the completion of an uninterrupted I-49 between Canada and New Orleans.

The I-49 International Coalition consists of more than 100 community groups and local governments from Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri.

The group’s plans call for converting U.S. 71 from Kansas City to the Louisiana border, as well as a 36-mile stretch from the Arkansas-Louisiana line to Shreveport into I-49, The Kansas City Star reported. The remainder of that interstate between Shreveport and Lafayette is already completed.

Members of the group said the roadway would reduce the Kansas City/New Orleans drive time by about three and a half hours and ease congestion along other Midwestern highways, the Shreveport Times reported.

The project has an estimated $4.9 billion price tag. Supporters say the cost would be recouped within six years in time and travel costs savings, the Times reported.

There is already an interstate from Kansas City to Winnipeg, Canada. Arkansas is building an I-49 segment that stops just short of the Louisiana line.

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