December 22, 2023 9:00am

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Boulet will continue to push I-49 Connector; Some voters say they would pay a toll if the issue arose

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Lafayette, LA Correspondent
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If you’re a fan of replacing the Evangeline Thruway near downtown Lafayette, you may have a friend in incoming Mayor-President-elect Monique Boulet.

The I-49 Connector was a high priority for the Acadiana Planning Commission when she was the agency’s director. During her three public conversations this week she said the project remains an important one for the future of Lafayette.

But if you’re a fan of replacing the outdated I-10 bridge over Lake Charles, you may not have a friend in the Legislature. Lawmakers balked at a plan that would have enacted tolls to move that project along, particularly after the trucking industry opposed what would have been a $12.50 to cross it.

So those issues met at this crossroad for this month’s Lafayette Power Poll: If at some point the Connector project needed funding from a toll to cover expenses, would you be in favor of it?

Voters also has their opinions on Boulet’s week of public meetings prior to taking office next month, but we’ll get to that later.

First, it’s the Connector, that decades-old, much-debated project that might seem like something many folks may not live to see but a real project that Boulet said in a Q&A with The Advocate that LCG will be “working closely with the state to get that project back on track.”

Nearly 75% of Power Poll voters indicated that would support any toll proposed with the project, including 38% that favored “whatever it takes to get it built” with 35% requesting it be minimal.

Another 22% gave the toll idea a thumbs down.

“I would encourage LCG to see how others areas have used tolls as a temporary means to cover the costs,” voter Diogo Tavares wrote. “I would point to one I know of right off the top of my head – the Hilton Head Island connector (bridge). Those tolls were in place to pay for the bridge. The tolls were removed.”

For the record, tolls have not been mentioned in regard to the Connector project. Boulet noted the project not far from being fundable but that “it just has to move faster at the state.”

Boulet’s meetings this week drew praises from voters. Asked which of the three meetings they were most interested in attending, 41% favored the economic development discussion on Wednesday while 23% favored each of the first two: the Connector meeting on Monday and the revitalization and housing study on Tuesday.

Only 8% of voters wished to discuss another topic.

“I am encouraged by MP-elect Monique Blanco Boulet’s willingness to engage the community on topics she plans to prioritize prior to taking office in January,” said Anita Begnaud, former CEO of the Downtown Development Authority. “The reality is we will need to make significant investments of local resources in housing and quality-of-life projects if we want Lafayette to compete and win for jobs and talent.”

Boulet announced this week an inauguration ceremony Jan. 3 at the Cajundome Convention Center as she will become the first female to sit atop Lafayette Consolidated Government. As start of her four-year term looms on the horizon, voters were given four options to choose as the biggest challenge for local government.

Results were mixed, but 33% pointed the finger at keeping young talented professionals in Lafayette. Also, 24% identified the challenge of companies being able to find quality workers at a competitive hourly wage, and 23% favored finding an affordably priced home in Lafayette.

“I think one of the challenges we need to take head-on is getting and retaining young talented people to start and build businesses here,” wrote Hunter Thevis, owner of S1 Technologies, who admitted he would “gladly pay” a toll if necessary to fund the Connector. “Seeing MP Boulet engage the community early is a good signal. (Her) track record of economic development has me very optimistic about the prospect of Lafayette's growth.”

Wrote voter Anne Falgout: “Locally, party politics have plagued Lafayette for too long. We saw it with this race and the previous MP race. But locally, what really matters is building consensus despite our clear differences. Making Lafayette better for our existing residents and prospective ones is a bipartisan issue and the solutions should be, too. We can do this, and I'm hopeful that Monique and her team are ready for the challenge.”

At the state level, which is suddenly headed up by Acadiana natives, including Gov. Jeff Landry, voters were mixed as well on their outlook of the next four years under Landry’s leadership, similar to a question asked months ago.

About 33% indicated they were somewhat optimistic, while 30% indicated they were somewhat pessimistic, 23% were very optimistic and 13% very pessimistic.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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