By Louis Avallone
It is widely accepted that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In fact, it was 5th-century B.C. Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who discovered the longest side of a right triangle is actually the shortest path between the two points on either end.
But Pythagoras missed a couple of key exceptions, however. First, his theorem only works on flat surfaces. And secondly, he never calculated the distance between the folks who want to establish an inner-city connector between I-20 and I-220, and those folks who don’t.
And despite the proposed distance between those two points being virtually a straight line, these groups could not be further apart. Here’s what I mean:
Earlier this year, the Louisiana DOTD formally broke ground on a section of I-49 that will connect Martin Luther King Drive and La. Highway 1 by 2016. As this section of I-49 inches closer to Shreveport, so does the debate over constructing an estimated $300 million inner-city connector to this last section of I-49, which would be built through the Allendale neighborhood.
Formally, the prospect of this inner-city connector is only in the planning and environmental stage, where an Environmental Impact Statement will be presented to the Federal Highway Administration and DOTD for approval, before proceeding further.
But for others, like the Shreveport City Council, they’ve already made up their minds. In June, they unanimously supported the construction of a new 120-unit affordable housing complex that is being built on land owned by the Shreveport Housing Authority. And this was in spite of the Metropolitan Planning Commission’s denial of the project only days earlier.
State Representative Roy Burrell argues that building this inner-city connector is more important than this housing complex because the connector will have a projected economic impact of $400 million in the Allendale area alone. He claims that those opposing the inner-city connector, and supporting the construction of the housing complex instead, have their own, selfish economic interests in mind, and not the “plight of the poor black folks in Allendale.”
On the other side of the road, those opposing the inner-city connector point out that downtown was most prosperous when neighborhoods like Allendale, and Ledbetter Heights, were prosperous. Architect Kim Mitchell points out that since 1980, the population in these neighborhoods has decreased by 80%, and that revitalizing these neighborhoods, and making it attractive for entrepreneurs, doesn’t include running a six-lane interstate highway through them.
He points out that the even President Eisenhower, who signed into law the construction of the interstate highway system in 1956, admitted that building these highways through congested parts of cities was against his original concept and wishes. And now, it seems, his original concept and wishes may be part of a growing trend throughout the nation.
For example, there’s a proposal in downtown Dallas to tear down I-345 because some say it divides the Deep Ellum neighborhood and downtown Dallas, effectively choking the life out of both. And even down in New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu says that he is willing to consider tearing down the elevated stretch of Interstate 10 through downtown New Orleans, pointing out that it “gave people more impetus to bypass the city than to stay in it.” Tearing it down, he explained, could attract new residents and businesses.
And that’s what Senator Barrow Peacock has in mind too, on this matter, but for a different reason. He believes that by building the inner-city I-49 connector it will attract new residents and businesses to both Allendale, and downtown alike. He points to the North Central Expressway in Dallas, complete with miles of service roads on both sides, as an example of how to build more than a highway, but an economic engine. “Look at the development along North Central in Dallas,” Senator Peacock explains, “there are neighborhoods and businesses that are thriving, and which have continued to grow, decades after it was built.”
But what’s the alternative to building the inner-city connector? Some folks propose simply looping I-49 traffic around I-220 and the existing 3132, and for considerably less than the estimated $300 million construction cost of the 3.9 mile proposed connector. Of course, this will increase traffic on North Market for travelers southbound on I-49, whose destination includes downtown Shreveport.
Some say that this would reinvigorate a once thriving, vital part of our city. Others say the inconvenience of it all will only grow, and they point out that I-220 and 3132 are only 4-lane highways, and should be 6-lanes, if such looping is to be seriously considered, not to mention that the loop will require travelers to drive an additional 12 miles further than they would if the inner-city connector was built.
Well, that’s enough for now. This is a matter of great importance, for the future development of our community, and the generations of folks yet to come. It’s difficult to underestimate the role that the interstate highway system has played in the American economy and our culture. The interstate connected us, as a nation, long before Facebook, and as such, it’s hard to imagine progress without it.
In the coming months, get informed, and be heard. Surely there’s a way for us to get Pythagoras and Robert Frost together, somehow, so that we can travel along the shortest distance between two points while, at the same time, perhaps taking the road less traveled. I hear it will make all the difference.