Pleas for a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge were hard to ignore during the 14th annual Legis-Gator luncheon at L’Auberge Casino Resort on Friday.
A banner hung behind the members of Congress seated onstage called on them to work together and find the money needed to build a new I-10 bridge. That, along with reigniting Louisiana’s oil and gas production and removing the partisan divide, are some of the challenges lawmakers said they are facing in Washington.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. said he, along with U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, made President Donald Trump aware of the bridge’s condition when he visited the Cameron LNG facility in Hackberry on May 14.
“I say, ‘Mr. President, if you want a standing ovation, you just tell them that you want to replace this bridge,’” Cassidy said. “It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but that was a partnership in which attention is brought to the fella who can make decisions to a point where he understands its importance.”
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, said the bridge’s infrastructure is in disrepair.
“Everyone that goes under it (or) drives over it knows that it’s got to be replaced,” said Abraham, who is also running for governor.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said the I-10 bridge is structurally sound. However, it is “too old, too steep” and not ideal for the number of drivers who cross it daily, he said. Getting a new bridge is a timely, complex process, Edwards said.
“We’ve overcome all the hurdles that this bridge replacement presents,” he said. “Obviously, what remains is funding.”
Infrastructure is one area where state surplus dollars can be spent, Edwards said. He added that he is preparing Louisiana to take up Trump’s offer to build a new bridge. Edwards said the state Department of Transportation and his administration are also working to secure $85 million in the state’s 2020 capital outlay bill for the project.
The ongoing work on the Interstate 210 bridge is expected to wrap up on time in early 2020, Edwards said.
Several lawmakers reflected on the life and political career of former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who died Aug. 18 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, said he was a police officer when he first met Gov. Blanco at a Christmas party five years ago.
“She was a kind a gracious woman,” he said. “She will be missed.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, said Blanco “lived civility.”
“That’s why we respected her and loved her so much,” he said.
Former state Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said Blanco did her best to help the state recover after Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landfall and was committed to improving education.
“Nobody had as much compassion as Kathleen Blanco,” he said.
Cassidy said federal lawmakers continue to fight to release the Citgo 6, who have been imprisoned in Venezuela since 2017.
“We do remember; we continue to do whatever we can,” he said.
Johnson and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, mentioned the need to rid the political divide in Congress.
Abraham attacked lawsuits against oil and gas companies and called for getting Louisiana’s oil and gas production “back to where we know it should be.”
First-term state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, was named this year’s Legis-Gator of the Year. During the most recent session, Magee helped pass legislation that invested money in infrastructure projects without increasing taxes.
Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Logansport, received the Chair’s Award for his work in pushing the state’s business community.
Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, and Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, received the Governmental Affairs Award for their work on supporting a new I-10 bridge.
Rep. Ryan Bourriaque, R-Grand Chenier, received the Fusion Five Award. A freshman legislator elected in February, Bourriaque was honored for pushing legislation to fund a new Cameron ferry and for his leadership on the House Ways and Means committee.
Forty-seven term-limited state lawmakers were also recognized. Alario, along with Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, were also honored. Alario, a state lawmaker for nearly five decades, and Barras were term-limited.