DALLAS — Louisiana will issue up to $110 million of bonds to build a two-mile segment of an interstate highway project that eventually will link industries in the Midwest to ports in southern Louisiana.

The widening work is part of the Interstate 49 South effort to upgrade existing highways in Louisiana to federal interstate standards.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Monday the project in Lafayette Parish will be financed with bonds supported by the state’s unclaimed property fund. The fund includes utility service deposits, paychecks, and other assets that were not claimed or cashed.

“A critical piece of transforming this region and our entire state for more economic growth is the completion of I-49 South,” Jindal said. “That’s why investing and completing I-49 South has been our top transportation priority in this area since 2008.”

When the highway is completed, Jindal said, the investment in I-49 will generate $17 billion to $36 billion of economic activity in the United States.

The unclaimed property bonds were authorized by the Legislature in 2011 and dedicated to I-49 projects. An analysis earlier this year found the fund could support up to $150 million of new debt.

The Lafayette Parish work was approved Monday by the Joint Transportation Committee.

The committee directed the Department of Transportation and Development to negotiate a design-build contract for the project to speed completion. Construction contracts are to be awarded in early 2014 and the work completed in early 2017.

The I-49 South project consists of 160 miles of interstate highway from Lafayette to the New Orleans area. Work has been completed or is under way on 100 miles, said Deidra Lockhart, a spokesman for the DOTD.

“The remaining 60 miles is expected to cost $5 billion,” Lockhart said. “Once we get south of Lafayette, we get into wetlands and swampy areas of the state.”

The Lafayette Parish project will widen and elevate a two-mile segment of the highway between Lafayette and Broussard as well add elevated frontage roads, she said.

When completed, I-49 will provide direct access for Midwest industries and agriculture to ports in Iberia, West St. Mary, and Morgan City, a bypass around Baton Rouge for east-west traffic on I-10, and a connection between oil industry suppliers and manufacturers from New Orleans to Houston. 

The I-49 North Project, a 36-mile stretch from I-20 in the Shreveport area to the Arkansas line, is to be completed in 2016 at a total cost of $631 million. Long-term plans call for the extension of I-49 to Kansas City, where it would connect with several interstate highways.

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