The Calcasieu Parish Industrial Development Board Thursday allocated $25,000 to aid the Build Our Bridge task force in getting a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge built as quickly as possible.
It's the second contribution the board has made to the task force, with $25,000 first set aside in November 2018. The money will pay for marketing, meetings with officials in Baton Rouge and Washington D.C., as well as lobbyists to keep the I-10 bridge project at the forefront.
Bart Yakupzack, task force member, said securing a new I-10 bridge has been "nothing short of a battle." The task force in January unveiled a proposal for a new bridge, with funding being done through a "P3" public/private partnership. It called for a private company to fund design and construction of the bridge, with tolls repaying that cost over time.
"I think time is of the essence," Yakupzack said of the project. "The community has not been this close in 30 years, so we run the risk of losing momentum."
The task force set a budget of $300,000 to be raised for the campaign, Yakupzack said. The Lake Charles City Council on Wednesday entered into an agreement with the Build Our Bridge Campaign and the Chamber Southwest, including a $50,000 pledge from the city. The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury has also committed $50,000 toward the effort.
The Port of Lake Charles and the cities of Sulphur and Westlake have received similar requests to support the campaign financially, Yakupzack said.
Yakupzack said President Donald Trump's May 14 announcement guaranteeing a new I-10 bridge if re-elected was a blessing. However, it made residents who were already hesitant about tolls completely opposed to the idea, he said.
"We as a task force certainly don't want to pay a toll," Yakupzack said. "But if it meant having a bridge sooner than later, then we thought our community would rise to the occasion. We hope there's not tolling, but if there is, we need to be ready."
The task force, Yakupzack said, is working with the state to advance permitting requirements and get an environmental impact statement.
Gov. John Bel Edwards in late August pledged to secure $85 million in the state's 2020 capital outlay budget for the I-10 bridge as the state's 10 percent match for the project. The federal government would cover the remaining 90 percent.
Brent Lumpkin, industrial development board president, said the I-10 bridge will be competing with other high-dollar infrastructure projects nationwide that are seeking federal money. The contribution, he said, is needed to help the task force moving forward.
"I've been on this board about 33 years," Lumpkin said. "I don't think there's anything that we've done since I've been on the board that I think is any more important than this."
Lumpkin said the $50,000 in total contributions to the task force is the second-largest financial commitment ever made by the board. He said the money can only be used for economic development in Southwest Louisiana.
The industrial development board was formed roughly 40 years ago to help industries with bond issues, with those industries being charged small fees over time.