East-West Corridor getting traction

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There has been talk about the need for an East-West interstate highway through Central Louisiana for decades, and a bill filed in Congress recently is at least a small first step toward making that corridor a reality. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana is one of the sponsors of the federal legislation designed to create Interstate 14 along the route of existing State Highways 8 and 28 and U.S. Highway 84. That course could change, obviously, as plans for the road progress. As far back as the 1970s, Louisiana legislators, members of the state’s congressional delegation, business leaders and others have discussed the benefits of a four-lane interstate highway through this part of the state that would connect Mississippi and Texas.

A commission was formed at one point to promote a new federal highway along part of the old El Camino Real route that would follow Highway 84 and Highway 6 through Natchitoches to the Toledo Bend areas of East Texas. Under the bill co-sponsored by Abraham to expand Interstate 14 through Louisiana, the highway would link Vidalia in the eastern part of the state with Leesville in West Louisiana and would cross through the heart of Louisiana at Alexandria. To be called the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway under provisions of the federal bill, the corridor would enhance deployment of troops from Fort Polk and other military installations in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi and help connect ports and forts across the south.

An East-West interstate would also be beneficial in hurricane evacuations that have often bogged down in Central Louisiana because of the lack of major highways to move traffic into Texas and Mississippi. Another major purpose for an interstate through this region of the state would be to expand economic development, attract new business and industry and create jobs in an area that has long needed more and better employment opportunities for its citizens. The creation of the Interstate 49 North-South highway years ago brought expanded tourism, increased enrollment at Northwestern and news jobs to this community, and an East-West corridor would provide the impetus for similar growth.

There is a vast space in Louisiana between Interstate 20 to the north and Interstate 10 in the south that is not served by a major East-West highway, so the need for the corridor is critical. Louisiana has fallen far behind surrounding states in economic development largely because of inadequate infrastructure, so the possibility of an East-West interstate in the region is exciting even it will not become a reality until far in the future.