HigginsU.S. Rep. Clay Higgins

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins said a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge could break ground by 2021, adding that an environmental impact statement should be finished next month.

Higgins, R-Port Barre, told the American Press editorial board on Monday that the impact statement and a finalized bridge plan are needed on the state level in order to be eligible for federal funding.

"We're not quite there yet," he said.

Higgins said he isn't completely against tolls. However, he doesn't support "current ideas" on tolls for the new bridge. He said a stipulation should be set up so local residents wouldn't have to pay them.

"(If) you live within 100 miles of the bridge, when you get your vehicle registration, you get a speed pass," Higgins said. "That would erase local concerns from folks who cross the bridge here every day."

A local task force appointed by the Chamber/Southwest Louisiana introduced a plan in January to build a new six-lane bridge, starting in 2020. The proposed P3 partnership would bring in a private company to pay for design and construction costs. Those costs would be repaid through tolls set by the company in its bid package.

Under the traditional method, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost for a new bridge, while the state would cover 10 percent. The January proposal projected a new bridge could cost up to $600 million.

Higgins said there's a major difference between the I-10 bridge, versus various areas in Texas with tolls.

"It's a matter of (it being) the only bridge in the middle of the community," he said. "We've been dealing with this for a long time."

Tolls "have nothing to do with federal funding," instead covering the state's portion of the cost, Higgins said. Gov. John Bel Edwards in August pledged $85 million in next year's capital outlay bill to fund the state's share of building a new bridge.

President Donald Trump publicly promised a new I-10 bridge, if reelected, during a stop in Hackberry in May. Higgins said Trump has made that promise to him in private conversations.

"We have complete confidence that we'll get the federal funding," he said.

Higgins congratulated the local task force that has pushed efforts to secure a new I-10 bridge. Task force members told the American Press editorial board in October that they want clearer answers on the funding pledges made by the state and Trump.

"I think they're doing a fantastic job," Higgins said of the task force.

Higgins said federal officials are suggesting to keep the existing I-10 bridge after a new bridge is built. The existing bridge can be used to open traffic flow during an evacuation, or for emergency responders.

Higgins said he will "move forward" in working with Gov. John Bel Edwards following his Nov. 16 runoff victory against GOP challenger Eddie Rispone. Edwards, a Democrat, received 51 percent of the statewide vote, compared to Rispone's 49 percent. Higgins publicly supported Rispone in the runoff.

"We have work to do," Higgins said.

Higgins said he wants Edwards to work with the state Legislature — which has Republican majorities in the House and Senate — on important measures.

"I hope he can work with them to focus on economic prosperity for Louisiana that will help all citizens on every level," he said. "You cannot exclude the oil and gas industry in that formula."

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