A task force dedicated to replacing the aging Interstate 10/Calcasieu River bridge has proposed a plan to build a new six-lane bridge, starting sometime in 2020, through an innovative public/private partnership.
During a news conference on Friday, task force members gave a three-year timeline to build the bridge, with an estimated cost between $400 million and $600 million. Design and construction would be funded entirely by a private venture. The cost would be repaid over time through tolls set by the private company in its bid package.
The proposed bridge would include pedestrian walkways, along with entrance and exit ramps at Sampson Street over the railway into Westlake. John Pohorelsky, task force member, described the concept as “not just plain and simple, but iconic.”
Keith DuRousseau, task force chairman, said all bridge work will be supervised and within the regulations of local, state and federal government. The state Department of Transportation and Development will have to review all bridge design and construction plans, along with overseeing and inspecting maintenance done by the private company.
Tolls will be reduced for local drivers; accessing the I-210 bridge will remain free, DuRousseau said. Pohorelsky said they have reviewed bridge tolls in other cities, including Mobile, Ala., to get an idea of what could be charged.
“None of us want an unreasonable toll,” he said. “The cost of a toll is so affordable when you consider sitting in traffic for an hour or two like we are now.”
Pohorelsky said most of the tolls will likely be paid by outof-state drivers, rather than locals.
Not replacing the I-10 bridge within five years will have “dramatic effects on our future,” DuRousseau said. The National Bridge Registry has rated the bridge a 6.6 out of
100. Meanwhile, the I-35 West Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis had a rating of 50 when it collapsed in 2007.
“We’ve been waiting for decades for the state to take action,” he said. “If we do nothing, we will continue to wait.”
Opened in 1952 with a 50-year lifespan, the I-10 bridge was designed for 37,000 vehicle crossings per day. An average of 81,710 vehicles crossed the bridge daily in 2016.
“Given the status of this bridge, we’re not satisfied that it would withstand another 10 years of the kind of traffic that it withstands,” Pohorelsky said.
DuRousseau said a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the 1994 ethylene dichloride pipeline leak is “no longer a cause for delay” in building a new I-10 bridge.
The public/private, or “P3” partnership, was recommended because of a lack of state funding, DuRousseau said. DOTD has a $13 billion backlog of road and bridge improvement projects. He said a gasoline tax will not generate enough money now or in the future to fund a new bridge.
“We can’t wait to get public funding to build our bridge; it is not going to happen,” Pohorelsky said. “We don’t think the state can do this in 10 years. This is something we can do now, (and) it would be less expensive to do it now.”
The DOTD’s proposals for new bridge alternatives estimated the cost at $800 million, not including the entrance and exit ramps into Westlake.
DuRousseau said the task force is asking the DOTD to issue a request for proposals by December for the P3 partnership. They are also asking the Southwest Louisiana legislative delegation to pass legislation during the upcoming session that will allow the project to move forward.
The task force has already heard from companies that are interested in submitting bids for the project, Pohorelsky said. “This is a huge day for Southwest Louisiana,” he said.