George Swift: Infrastructure to the forefront

Published 6:47 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

By George Swift

Our region knows first-hand the importance of building and supporting a strong community. Southwest Louisiana is a great place to work, live, and raise a family — and we want to keep it that way for generations to come. A prosperous economy, resilient coastline and homes, and updated infrastructure are vital to ensuring we maintain and grow our community. This requires a concerted effort by private and public partners and local, state, and federal governments to secure the future of Lake Charles. One key partner in our efforts has been Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), co-authored by Sen. Cassidy and signed into law last November, the SWLA region is already reaping the benefits. It advances the proposed Southwest Coastal Louisiana Project, bolstering our coastline and homes against storm surges and floods.

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The IIJA also invests in our bridges. For years, we’ve worked to replace the 1-10 Bridge, currently two decades past its lifespan. Thanks to the federal infrastructure bill, this bridge and many others across the state, will be replaced. In the last month, President Joe Biden in two nationally broadcast  events has named the Calcasieu River Bridge in Lake Charles as an example of a major national infrastructure need. Hours before the president was to talk about infrastructure in Pittsburg, a bridge collapsed. We don’t want that to happen here, so there is an urgency to this project.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced an additional $100 million from these new federal funds for the I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles, bringing the total funding to about $300 million. That leaves a $500-$600 million shortfall. In the infrastructure bill there are 25 competitive infrastructure funding opportunities for local governments for ports, projects for rural areas, flood mitigation, energy efficiency, water and groundwater storage and conveyance and more.

There are at least three specific funding opportunities for roads and bridges including RAISE Grants (Rebuilding American Infrastructure Sustainability and Equitably, The National Infrastructure Project Assistance (known as Megaprojects or MEGA), and the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grants. We expect the Louisiana Department of Transportation to apply for several of these competitive grants to get more money for the bridge.

Also, Rep. Philip Tarver and members of our SWLA Legislative delegation are going to seek additional funding from the state. In the meantime, RFP’s for a Public Private Partnership (P3) are in motion and by July we should begin to see the financial picture for the bridge take shape.

Additionally, the Lake Charles Regional Airport and the Chennault International Airport received an additional $1.3 million in funding this year from the infrastructure bill.

As well as hard
infrastructure upgrades, the federal infrastructure bill addresses the current lack of broadband access for many in our parish and surrounding communities. A recent study found 63% of Calcasieu Parish residents lack adequate high-speed broadband coverage. The IIJA provides $65 billion in grants for broadband deployment, and companies in our five-parish area will have the opportunity to bid on those grants. This is great news. Enhancing our broadband infrastructure will help alleviate a great concern in Southwest Louisiana and will attract new business, investment, and job growth.

 We are already seeing how this legislation is benefiting our region and it is just getting started. There’s still work to be done, but we want to thank Sen. Bill Cassidy for his leadership in supporting our effort to make Lake Charles and SW La. a better place to live and work.

George Swift is president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. Contact him at 337-433-3632 or