I-49 Could Bring Big Change For N. Caddo Residents

MIRA, LA (AP) — Every now and then someone unexpected drops in to visit Carol and Odell Cason at their shop in Mira off U.S. Highway 71.

         The fabric and carpet store Designs by Carol has regular shoppers, but as much as 30 percent of their business comes from folks who've never been inside before. The Casons expect Interstate 49 to steal all that away.

         "A lot of our business is tourists who stop off 71, and I bet 90 percent of them won't be stopping anymore," Odell Cason said. "Here there's nothing to pull off for. If I'm traveling on the Interstate and I need gas or something to eat, if I can't see it from the exit I won't pull off."

         The Shreveport-to-Texarkana stretch of the cross-state roadway recently opened in full, and while it runs through the Casons' front yard, I-49 doesn't feed their business. Highway 71 is now the formerly fastest route from north Caddo to Shreveport.

         They aren't alone — I-49 will prove a double-edged sword for many north Caddo residents.

         The towns of Gilliam, Hosston and Ida, all intersected by Highway 71, have a total and steadily falling population of about 700. That population is aging, too. There are only a few businesses without shuttered windows in any of those hamlets.

         The folks who do own businesses struggle to keep them populated with employees and customers both. Many residents work in Shreveport-Bossier City and tackled the long, often difficult commute down Highway 71 prior to the Interstate opening.

         "There's so many things that have shut down. There's nowhere for people to use a restroom. There's nowhere for gas. I get people coming in here and they're desperate," said Hosston library manager Becky Dean. "They get about this far and suddenly get concerned if they'll make it to Shreveport, or vice versa to Texarkana."

         The mood over I-49 is mostly positive in Hosston, Dean said, because the faster route is expected to take nearly all the big rig traffic off Highway 71. That's a big deal for elderly drivers, but everyone knows the roadway is dangerous.

         "You try to go the speed limit and you're going to get people trying to run you off the road," Dean said.

         For those who work in Shreveport-Bossier but live in one of those northern towns, the commute time will fall drastically. It'll mean a lot for Ida's 24-year-old Paige Welch, now five months pregnant.

         "I won't be moving. I lived here all my life. I love the small-town community and everyone I know," Welch said. "People can probably sleep a little longer in the mornings now that the Interstate has opened up, and it'll be a lot easier when I go into labor."

         Residents are looking for — or expecting — a change in their rural way of life. What they do expect is a few more conveniences around the Interstate interchanges — drug stores, groceries and gas stations.

         "It will be a real boost to the economy of north Caddo," said I-49 International Coalition Executive Director Gard Wayt. "There'll be more of this and more of that. These interchanges are where that all begins."

         Where I-49 has sliced through from Fort Smith to Fayetteville, Arkansas, Wayt said those kind of stores and service stations are popping up regularly, both a symptom and cause of development.

         "It's grown like Topsy. It's one of the fastest growing areas in the country every year, and I expect that kind of influence in north Caddo," he said.

         It's the same story in Missouri, where I-49 is winding its way through the state as part of the future corridor that will take motorists from New Orleans to Canada.

         "It's absolutely changed things for us. It's made things much more efficient and safer in our area," said Andy Determan, manager for the Scoular Co. in Adrian, Missouri, which has been growing along the new corridor. "We didn't expand because of it, but we wouldn't have expanded without it."

         I-49 continues to replace U.S. 71 in Barton County, Missouri, and if it isn't actually drawing in industry and commerce, it's at least giving the Chamber of Commerce in Lamar, the county's seat, more ammunition to market their area.

         "Now we have all these things that make us a better package for large industry to take a look at us," said Chamber Executive Director Astra Ferris. "Some of our businesses are seeing a 40 to 60 percent increase in business."

         – by AP/ Reporter Adam Duvernay with The Times


         For more information



Categories: Today’s Business News