Paying for a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge, fixing broken infrastructure and having healthy political discourse were among the topics Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed during a town hall meeting in Lake Charles on Saturday.
The event, hosted by the Lake Charles Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, gave the public the chance to ask Edwards questions ahead of the Oct. 12 election. Edwards, a Democrat, is running for re-election against his two main Republican challengers: U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto, and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone.
Edwards mentioned setting aside $85 million in next year's capital outlay bill to cover the state's share of funding for a new I-10 bridge, estimated to cost as much as $600 million. President Donald Trump promised a new I-10 bridge, if re-elected, during a May visit to Sempra Energy's Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry.
Tolls have been discussed as a potential funding solution for a new bridge. The crowd applauded when Edwards said a toll won't be necessary if the federal government comes up with its share of the money for the project.
When asked about improving infrastructure statewide, Edwards discussed the need to increase the state's decades-old gasoline tax. He said Louisiana has far less purchasing power with the tax than it did years ago.
"We're more resource-constrained than we want to be, but that's not an excuse for inaction," he said. "We have to acknowledge that this is a real challenge."
However, efforts to raise the state's gasoline tax have repeatedly failed to gain much traction during legislative sessions.
Edwards mentioned placing money in the state's Transportation Trust Fund that was initially set aside to State Police. This effort, he said, provides more money for road and bridge improvement projects, along with investment in ports. He said the state has also been aggressive in pursuing federal grants to further pay for projects.
"We know that it's important not just for moving commerce and economic development, but for quality of life," Edwards said.
The governor asked the crowd to urge its elected officials to work together, despite political differences.
"When I see what's coming out of Washington D.C. these days, it is truly disheartening," he said.
Edwards said he has a good "personal and working relationship" with members of the Southwest Louisiana legislative delegation.
"They come to Baton Rouge, and they're focused on solving problems," he said.
Edwards said the most important job as governor is making decisions that are in the best interest of the state. He criticized the decisions former Gov. Bobby Jindal made during his failed 2016 presidential run as being "in his best interests."