Shared from the 2/14/2019 American Press eEdition


Don’t let state hold up bridge


The state Department of Transportation and Development threw some cold water on a local task force plan to build a new Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River here, but its proposal should still be pursued. Shawn Wilson, secretary of DOTD, likes the public-private partnership idea, but thinks it needs more public participation.

Wilson explained the state has to be involved in projects of this nature in order to protect the state’s interests.

“Our responsibility to protect the public’s interest, earn financial close and deliver and maintain an interstate bridge consistent with federal requirements drives our decision that it should not be pursued as such,” Wilson said of using only private funding.

Wilson may have a good point about seeking other funding options. However, calling a “very aggressive” timeline to start construction in 2020 unrealistic is hard to swallow. Haven’t motorists waited long enough to get something done?

The task force named by the Chamber/Southwest Louisiana has done an excellent job researching this project and should do everything it can to see that the state sticks to the 2020 deadline. Government bureaucracy has a bad habit of moving at a snail’s pace.

Financing ideas advanced by Wilson can be explored. He mentioned federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds, or GARVEE bonds, or federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation ACT loans, or TIFIA loans. Makes you wonder how bureaucrats manage to come up with such complicated names for what sound like simple ways to borrow federal dollars.

Local business people put the I-10 project together, and that is a major plus. Federal and state government officials don’t have a lot of credibility these days. The Legislature could have done something about building new bridges here and at Baton Rouge, but failed miserably — primarily because Republicans who control the Legislature are more interested in playing politics.

A 2015 legislative measure would have levied a 1 percent state sales tax for 10 years to build 16 projects, including new bridges here and at Baton Rouge. The bill got unanimous support in two House committees, but came up 20 votes short of the two-thirds needed in the full House. A proposed gasoline tax increase in 2017 went nowhere.

Not surprisingly, local public officials in the Baton Rouge area are also trying to come up with plans to build a new bridge there. Members of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District also believe a private-public partnership could be the key to financing a new bridge.

Members of that district are the presidents of East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension and Livingston parishes, Wilson of DOTD and a developer named by the governor. State Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, created the district in 2018.

Ward said under a private-public partnership one or more companies would agree to handle construction costs in exchange for a long-term revenue stream, which would include a profit. In addition to tolls, the district has the authority to ask voters to approve a sales tax hike of up to 1 percent, a property tax increase in the five parishes and a bond issue.

The Advocate said a $122 million project to replace the Belle Chasse tunnel and nearby movable bridge is being financed through a private-public partnership, federal dollars and toll revenue. Wilson said different companies handle tolls, construction, engineering and customer service for the Belle Chasse project.

Wilson likes the public-private partnership plan. He said private officials from China, Australia, Europe and Canada have expressed an interest in teaming up with the state to build a new bridge at Baton Rouge.

Some of the other countries that might be interested in Louisiana’s bridge-building projects have constructed well-designed bridges in sometimes challenging situations. We can benefit from their expertise.

Wilson talked about the traffic nightmares that occur daily at the Baton Rouge I-10 bridge and why that hampers economic development. He said officials at petro-chemical plants across the river complain they can’t necessarily get their products to and from efficiently or move their employees.

The president of Dow Chemical, which has a 3,000 acre plant near Plaquemine, told Wilson it is going to be very difficult for the Baton Rouge facility to compete for an expansion within the Dow company with all the other Dow locations.

“Why would they want to expand?” Wilson asked.

The trucking industry is also affected, and Wilson said he regularly hears complaints about the Baton Rouge corridor. The same situation is going to exist here during yearlong reconstruction of the I-210 bridge and afterwards because of the expanding LNG and other industries.

Members of the task force who put the I-10 bridge proposal here together did extensive research and contacted numerous experts. The best way to thank them for their effort is to get this bridge construction started as quickly as possible.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or

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