DOTD: Investing private companies could collect less from I-10 tolls than anticipated

Published 8:53 pm Thursday, August 31, 2023

About 175 people attended the DOTD’s public meeting held Thursday at the Lake Charles Civic Center to find out more about the proposed Interstate 10-Calcasieu River Bridge project.

State Secretary of Transportation and Development Eric Kalivoda was part of the panel of experts providing answers, including why it’s come down to a P3 partnership that will cost $2.1 billion and include tolls that will last up to 50 years — tolls that will increase 2.5 percent every year based on the Consumer Price Index. Tolls will start at 25 cents. Medium and large trucks will pay more. Calcasieu Bridge Partners, the company that will build the bridge if the proposed project goes forward, will also be responsible for maintaining it for the next 50 years.

Kalivoda said talks about financing this and other large projects began in 2017; however, when the proposal to increase the state gas tax in increments over a number of years in order to pay for large projects didn’t make it through the legislative process, talk turned to public-private partnerships (P3s), “tolling in other words.”

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He said it was up to the Joint Transportation Committee to give the DOTD the approval to move forward with the P3 concept, and they did in 2020.

“Moving through the procurement method to get to the point where we are right now, where we received two proposals and we selected what we thought in the best interest of the people of this region and the state.”

Before the panel answered questions from the public, State Sen. Mark Abraham told the American Press that the bridge will cost closer to $2.7 billion after the local DOTD puts another $300 million on the project. The contractor has $300 million in contingencies built in.

The new bridge won’t be as steep, thus not as high, but so far, it has not received approval from the Coast Guard, according to information shared with a member of the public by a critical project manager.

It will be wider, six lanes plus an auxiliary lane between Ryan and Sampson streets. It will have full shoulders and roadway lighting.

Construction could begin in late 2024 and take seven years. No tolls would be charged until the bridge is completed.

Kalivoda said the investing private companies could collect less from tolls than anticipated. In the case of revenue exceeding calculations, windfall profits could be used to decrease the number of years tolls will be paid, reduce tolls for a certain period of time or not raise tolls, in keeping with the CPI.

The only tolls currently in Louisiana aren’t along interstate highways, according to a display. That’s changing here and across the United States, Kalivoda said. Interstate 10 will be tolled in Mobile when it’s completed; however, that toll will be state-operated, not for-profit operated.

The Joint Legislative Transportation Committee will be voting to move forward with this project – or not – in September. When answering the question why wasn’t the public in on all of the decision making surrounding the project, Kalivoda said not everyone can go to Baton Rouge meetings to offer their comments in person for or against projects. It’s up to the people to let their local legislators know their thoughts, and up to the local legislators to make those thoughts known to decision makers.