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DOTD responds to Civil Rights investigation of I-49

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Posted at 1:52 PM, Feb 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-14 14:52:26-05

The federal government has opened a civil rights investigation into the proposed Interstate 49 Lafayette Connector based on a complaint alleging it will follow a path that racially divides the city, and DOTD has responded.

Our media partners at The Advocate broke the story about the investigation into a complaint filed by a former Lafayette resident. According to the newspaper, the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights, in a Jan. 18 letter, notified former Lafayette resident Ann Burress that her complaint of racial discrimination has been accepted for investigation.

The crux of her complaint was that the "path of this project follows a clearly defined racial segregation line from the past. Establishing that line in 1923 was all that was needed to etch in stone an economic and racial divide that exists in this city on these streets to this day," the newspaper reported.

In a response letter, the FHA wrote that the federal investigation will focus on “whether the Lafayette I-49 Connector Project creates potential disparate, adverse impacts to residents based on race, color or national origin,” The Advocate reported.

To read The Advocate's story,click here. Burris is not the only resident to question the proposed path of the connector; the Sierra Club has argued for years that the plans are a threat to the Chicot Aquifer, which is Acadiana's main source of drinking water.

Regarding the Civil Rights allegation, we reached out to the FHA, and they told us they don't comment on pending investigations.

Louisiana's Department of Transportation and Development, however, did respond.

Here's DOTD's Official Statement regarding I-49 Lafayette Connector Title VI investigation:

Since the I-49 Lafayette Connector was re-launched in 2015, DOTD has made every commitment to guarantee that the very work of the EIS Supplement and the Context Sensitive Solutions process are being conducted to ensure equitable benefits to all with regards to safety, design, construction, and long term operations and maintenance benefits.

“The idea that the I-49 Lafayette Connector is racist, and that it disproportionally impacts segments of the community with merits or demerits, is not only disingenuous, but it is a complete snub to the local, state, federal and community investments towards this project,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson. “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.”

The goal of the I-49 Lafayette Connector is to provide vital improvements to transportation.

Additionally, the Connector represents an opportunity to reconnect and enhance the surrounding area such as improving pedestrian safety and connectivity in the immediate future with funding that has been appropriated. DOTD and Lafayette Connector Partners have worked closely with stakeholders and residents of the corridor to ensure that the highway’s design reflects the vision and values of the community.

“DOTD has stood toe-to-toe and pushed back on some of the most complex issues surrounding this project to ensure an equitable outcome for those in the community. Accounting just for outreach and engagement activities, we’ve held over 150 meetings, reaching over 3,000 members of the public and investing approximately 250 hours. That’s not racism or bias. That’s investment. That’s commitment,” said Wilson.

We believe this project can be an example to the nation of how transportation planning, conducted in partnership with communities, can create opportunities for revitalization and connectivity, as well as produce great structures that are an asset to their communities.

The DOTD stands by the outreach efforts to the entire community and is confident that the FHWA will see the effort put forth to reach and engage those impacted. DOTD has, and will continue to be responsive to USDOT to ensure successful delivery of the project.