I-49 South backer recalled

Carl W. “Wimpy” Bauer, 79, a St. Mary Parish native who served in both houses of the state Legislature from 1966 to 1976 and advocated turning U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans into a four-lane highway, died June 11.

After leaving public office, Bauer continued his efforts toward raising U.S. 90 to Interstate standards as a continuation of I-49.

Charles Richard, one of the founders of the St. Mary Industrial Group, said Bauer’s efforts were critical to getting a four-lane highway and relieving traffic congestion in the eastern side of the parish.

“Employees could not get in and out of here for work,” Richard said. “He agreed with us that something had to be done and he said he would do all he could to get it done.”

Richard said that Bauer lived up to his promises.

“He was a big help. Without people like him to keep pushing the issue we would probably still not have the highway widened,” Richard said.

Bauer was born in Centerville and named Carl Packard Wiegmann, according to his obituary. After his biological parents divorced a few years later, Bauer was placed in a foster home and eventually adopted by Margaret Wooster Bauer and her husband, R. Norman Bauer, who changed his name to Carl Wiegmann Bauer. The family raised him in Franklin and he graduated from Franklin High School in 1951.

State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, former mayor of Franklin, remembers Bauer as a driving force in improving U.S. 90.

“Carl Bauer was the first man I ever recalled that elevated the value of building a new four-lane highway through our area in the 1960s,” Jones said. “He championed the idea and got statewide attention during his term as state representative by classifying sections of it as ‘blood alley’ due to the number of deadly accidents on what is now La. 182 but was U.S. 90 back then.”

Everybody who travels on U.S. 90 today owes a measure of gratitude to the efforts of Bauer, Richard said.

Bauer won a special election to fill the remaining two years in the term of freshman state Rep. Spencer G. Todd of St. Mary Parish who died in office in 1966. He was among sponsors of the 1971 law that created Acadiana as an official cultural and regional designation recognized by the state government.

During the 1990’s, Bauer served as the chairman of the Governor’s Interstate 49 Task Force while also a member of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, according to The Advertiser, a Lafayette newspaper.

It was during this time that U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans was officially designated as the future route of I-49 South. The task force argued that the upgrading of U.S. 90 to Interstate standards would accommodate the south Louisiana energy industry, ease hurricane evacuation and prevent the highway crashes resulting from the traffic signals and crossovers along U.S. 90.

Jones said that Bauer’s accomplishments did not end when traffic was moved over from the cramped state highway to a new four-lane federal highway. The project carried over to getting highway from Lafayette to New Orleans raised to Interstate standards, especially through St. Mary Parish, he said.

“It is ironic that we have had to begin calling the stretch from Patterson through Berwick by that name again in order to get the attention of the Jindal administration to get them to focus on this in order to get some attention and relief,” Jones said. “Carl Bauer should be credited as an early influence on what some day will be I-49 South.”

State Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, has been instrumental in pushing I-49 forward in recent years and said that the work done by Bauer in the early years of U.S. 90 improvements “was very admirable.”

“He was a great legislator and a great family friend,” Allain said Wednesday.

According to Bauer’s obituary, his professional career included membership on many influential boards of directors, including several banks, the Lafayette Economic Development Association, the Louisiana Enterprise Center, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, and others. He was involved in the Boy Scouts, a Master Mason, a Shriner, a member of Rotary and was a long time member and past chairman of the Board of Goodwill of Acadiana.

While he experienced his share of heartache, including the loss of his sight in recent years, he never lost sight of the positives in his life, his obituary said.

Bauer is survived by his wife of 33 years, Mary Jane Peacher Bauer, six children and eight grandchildren.

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