Editorial: No clear road to fixing crumbling infrastructure

A report that says Louisiana’s roads, bridges, dams and drinking water aren’t in tip-top shape shouldn’t come as a big surprise to most folks.

It is a situation that is all too common across the country. What’s more important is what, if anything, political leaders

can do to improve those basic structures and facilities that are so vital for a society’s well-being.

The American Society of Civil

Engineers, whose members plan, design, construct and maintain those

things, has given Louisiana’s

infrastructure a C-minus, according to The Times-Picayune of New

Orleans. The society said 62 percent of the state’s roads

are in mediocre or poor condition, 3,815 bridges are structurally

deficient or functionally obsolete, 33 dams are considered

“high-hazard,” and drinking water and wastewater systems will need

$10.9 billion in improvements over the next 20 years.

Some satisfaction can be gained

from the fact that the society gave the nation a D-plus rating. Its

infrastructure will need

$2.7 trillion in improvements by 2020. Most of that — $1.7

trillion — is needed for surface transportation. Revenues are expected

to provide less than half of the funds needed.

Louisiana has a $12.1 billion

backlog of road and bridge projects. The state gets federal funding for

road and bridge work

and revenue from a 20-cent gasoline tax. Four cents of that goes

to pay for 16 projects voters approved in 1989. Two of the

16 involved the four-laning of U.S. 171 and U.S. 165. The other 16

cents is used for routine road and bridge construction

and maintenance.

State officials said one penny of the 16 cents ($28 million this year) has been used to pay off bonds issued to finance those

16 projects. The original cost estimate for the work was $1.4 billion, but climbed to $5.2 billion, according to a report

in The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee aren’t happy about those funds being diverted because highway funding is already

insufficient for the state’s needs.

Officials with the state Department of Transportation and Development said the news isn’t all bad. Over the past five years,

the state has invested more than $5 billion in its infrastructure, which they called “an unprecedented amount.”

While that is a commendable effort,

what about the remaining $12.1 billion backlog? The civil engineer

report that rated Louisiana

adds that the 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax hasn’t increased in

22 years. In addition to raising gasoline taxes, the society

recommends increases in motor vehicle sales taxes and registration

fees to pay for bridge maintenance and replacement.

The state’s road, bridge, dam and drinking water needs are definitely legitimate, but the odds of raising taxes or fees in

the current anti-tax climate are slim.

Unfortunately, not much may get done until taxpayers start feeling the effects of their neglected infrastructure.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.