• Fri. Jun 9th, 2023


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Struggling Louisiana Neighborhood Sees New Highway as a Perilous Exit

When the Tapo family lived along the Thruway, their house was struck by cars twice. “I’ve seen motorcycle wrecks,” said Carl Tapo Jr., who grew up in the neighborhood. “I’ve seen a guy get hit by a bus. I’ve seen a guy killed. I’ve seen a guy run over on a bike looking at an accident on the Thruway.”

“It got to a point,” he added, “that you got so used to it.”

His father, Carl Tapo Sr., a retired railroad engineer, said that he taught his children to “respect the highway,” and that they mostly played in a spacious backyard instead of going out into the neighborhood. He has become reluctantly open to the prospect of an elevated highway.

“Now, what you do have to be concerned about is vagrancy,” the elder Mr. Tapo said. “Well, we got that now anyway.”

For Ms. Bonnet, one of the worst effects of the connector would be the displacement of the community garden that she has spent so much time and energy nurturing. She tilled the soil and harvested vegetables.

It is part of a land deal to make room for a water plant displaced by the interstate’s right of way. Her old house, where she lived with one of her daughters, was also bought by the state. Now, she lives in a repurposed shipping container, a prototype project by the local Habitat for Humanity.

The garden, planted on property lent to the McComb Veazey Neighborhood Coterie by the local school district, sits on sloping land beside a wastewater treatment plant. In a neighborhood that has endured so much decline, those two acres were a bright spot where she could see things take root and flourish.

“We did all this work to get it where we want it,” Ms. Bonnet said. “Now, we got to start all over again.”

Christiaan Mader is the editor and founder of The Current, a nonprofit news organization covering Lafayette and South Louisiana, and an occasional contributor to The Times.