Shared from the 10/23/2019 American Press eEdition

Task force looks for answers on bridge funding

A local task force appointed by the Chamber/Southwest Louisiana that is pushing for a new Interstate 10/Calcasieu River bridge is searching for a clearer answer on the funding pledges made by state officials and President Donald Trump.

“I think that’s one of our greatest objectives at this point,” Keith DeRousseau, task force chairman, told the American Press editorial board on Monday. “We’re hopeful that we can get these two parties together and deliver this bridge through the traditional method.”

That traditional method calls for the federal government to cover 90 percent of the cost for a new bridge, with the state paying the remaining 10 percent.

The task force in January unveiled a plan to build a six-lane bridge, starting in 2020, through a P3 publicprivate partnership. A private company would cover design and construction costs, which would then be repaid through tolls set by the company in its bid package. At the time, the proposal stated the bridge could cost anywhere from $400 million to $600 million.

Gov. John Bel Edwards in August pledged to set aside $85 million in next year’s capital outlay bill to cover the state’s share of funding for a new bridge. Meanwhile, Trump’s May speech at the Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry included a promise of a new I-10 bridge, if he is reelected.

‘We’re hopeful that we can get these two parties together and deliver this bridge through the traditional method.’
Keith DeRousseau
Task force chairman speaking of funding pledges by state officials and President Trump

DeRousseau said the task force is working with U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, R-La., and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Point Barre, to understand the guidelines in the environmental impact statement to speed up the process.

While viewed as a “last resort,” DeRousseau said tolls would likely be necessary if the state and federal government come up short on money. Trump said in his most recent visit to Lake Charles Oct. 11 that funding was not an issue in terms of the bridge, John Pohorelsky, task force member, said.

“We don’t want to take the toll completely off the table if it is our only viable way of replacing a piece of infrastructure that’s important to us,” DeRousseau said.

Impact statement

The environmental impact statement (EIS) needs to be done before a design-build contractor can be secured. The task force, however, has encountered roadblocks in getting it completed.

“Since 2017, we’ve have had three different projected completions that have all went past that deadline,” DeRousseau said.

The task force submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to the state’s allocation of funds for the EIS. Pohorelsky said he has been unable to go through all of the “tremendous amount of information” received “to see exactly what the status is.”

The state has hired HNTB Corporation to oversee the EIS process.

“Our question for some time has been has the state given HNTB the green light to pursue it as quickly as possible, and is HNTB assured of payment,” Pohorelsky said. “Are the funds in hand?”

Pohorelsky said the state Department of Transportation and Development said funding was available to complete the EIS.

“I wanted to see hard evidence, something in writing, a purchase order,” he said. “We’re in the process of looking at the materials.”

DeRousseau said a funding plan has to be detailed in the EIS for it to be completed.

“That’s why it’s critical right now for all the other components of the EIS to be in place so we can insert that last portion of funding,” he said.

“We need definition from the federal side on what funding is available and how is it going to be provided,” Pohorelsky added. “It could be 90 percent through a series of grants, loans. But we need to know those details so the state doesn’t have a reason to delay the EIS further.”


Initially, a new I-10 bridge wasn’t seen as necessary because the Federal Transit Administration identified Interstate 210 as an alternate route. However, DeRousseau said the I-210 bridge could not withstand the volume of traffic if the I-10 bridge was closed.

“You want to talk about congestion; that would be significant,” he said.

Task force member Bart Yakupzack said 60 percent of the traffic that uses the I-10 bridge is made up of out-oftown travelers.

Pohorelsky said the task force is “not toll happy.” But he questions those who oppose using them to partially fund the project, if needed.

“They have probably not sat in traffic for an hour or two on the I-210 (bridge),” he said. “Our economy here couldn’t survive if one bridge is taken out for any length of time.”

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