Celebrating the interstate

Dec. 28, 2000
Like many celebrations in Louisiana, festivities involving the completion of I­p;49 in the Pelican State revolved around food, music and politics. The celebration, which included a crawfish boil, a breakfast, and a marching band followed by a traditional ribbon cutting involving federal, state and local officials, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System.
Like many celebrations in Louisiana, festivities involving the completion of I­p;49 in the Pelican State revolved around food, music and politics. The celebration, which included a crawfish boil, a breakfast, and a marching band followed by a traditional ribbon cutting involving federal, state and local officials, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System. The event also marked the completion of the entire interstate system, as it now stands, in Louisiana and the Southeast.

Frank Denton, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and Ed Wueste, regional administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), were present at the May 1 ceremonies that opened the final section of the $138.8 million project. The 16.6-mile Alexandria urban section will be known as the Martin Luther King Jr. Highway. An approved permanent marker commemorating the King naming will be established near the site of the ribbon cutting at the intersection of Murray Street and I­p;49.

As part of the festivities, Gov. Mike Foster proclaimed May 1 as Interstate 49 Day in Louisiana to highlight opening activities and to commemorate the interstate system's 40th year in existence.

While the celebration marks the completion of I­p;49, the longest interstate in America that begins and ends in the same state, and the interstate in the Southeast, interstate systems in six other states, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, were still to be under construction after I­p;49 was completed. I­p;49 links North-South Louisiana and includes 212 miles of roadway between Lafayette and Shreveport. In its entirety, construction of I­p;49, which began in October 1975, cost approximately $1.3 billion.

President Clinton sent greetings to those in attendance at the celebration. "This major arterial marks the completion of nearly 900 miles of interstate in Louisiana," he said in a written statement. "A vital link to Louisiana's major metropolitan areas, it will strengthen the economy and improve mobility throughout the region. You can take great pride in helping to forge the partnership that brought the I­p;49 project to a successful conclusion. This kind of cooperative effort at the federal, state and local levels proves that we can meet the challenge of investing in America's infrastructure while maintaining our commitment to a balanced federal budget."

T.D. "Tommy" James of Reston, La., chairman of The Road Information Program (TRIP), Washington, D.C., said, "I­p;49 completes the connection from southern Louisiana to the northwestern corner of the state, Lafayette to Alexandria to Shreveport. Can you imagine how difficult our life would be if we didn't have the interstate to travel on and for businesses to use to deliver the goods we buy and sell?"

Patrick L. Gootee, president of Associated General Contractors of Louisiana, praised the efforts of Gov. Foster and DOTD Secretary Denton for their work in completing the interstate. Gootee said, "The interstate is important to Louisiana's economy because it has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in and outside of the construction industry, as well as promoted economic development through- out the state.

"Every $100 million spent on highway construction over the years creates about 3,000 jobs in and outside of construction in our state," he said.

While the Louisiana celebration may have been the first, it will not be the only celebration held in conjunction with the interstate's 40th birthday. Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, said that his organization, which acts as a non-profit public relations arm of the highway industry, had obtained commitments from at least

20 general-contractor organizations across the U.S. who plan on conducting some type of event in commemoration of the anniversary.

Among state celebrations to take place, in New York, a luncheon is being planned in which the governor and other officials are to be invited. TRIP is helping to coordinate media efforts with organizations within the Empire State. The state organizations are charged with running the event, while TRIP offers assistance with public relations. In Missouri, organizers are planning an event on Aug. 10 to coincide with the date that construction of the interstate system began in the Show Me State.