03_Talk_Bridge task force_1

In this file photo, task force members Bart Yakupzack, John Pohorelsky and Keith DeRousseau, from left, discuss their proposal to get a new I-10 bridge built with the American Press editorial board on Monday, January 28, 2019.

The Calcasieu River Bridge on Interstate 10 rates 6.6 out of a possible 100 points in the National Bridge Inventory database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration — an alarming fact that has prompted much discussion about the proposed new bridge project.

I-10 Bridge Task Force member John Pohorelsky said because of that rating, the federal or state government could shut the bridge down. It was built by the state and co-opted into the federal interstate system — opening to traffic in 1952, with a 50-year design life.

Pohorelsky told members of the West Calcasieu Chamber of Commerce that if that were to happen, travelers would experience traffic similar to what Baton Rouge does before LSU football games.

"The bridge is critical to business and industry here," he said.

In 2017, the task force was created by the Chamber SWLA to evaluate and propose recommendations for financing and construction of a new bridge. The group met with infrastructure, engineering and finance experts from around the country. In January, the Chamber accepted the task force's 30-page proposal, with hundreds of pages of supporting documents.

The proposal is a public-private partnership that, instead of incurring debt or using tax revenues, would repay the builder through an electronic toll — the cost of which would be lower for local residents.

It is projected that thru-traffic will pay the majority of the toll. Pohorelsky said the task force is not making recommendations as to a toll price.

The task force proposed forgoing a state-led project for a variety of reasons including the DOTD's infrastructure backlog of $14 billion.

The proposal of using a toll to fund bridge construction has received mixed reviews from the public. But, there is another bridge, for those who don't mind the expenditure of time and gas to avoid the toll.

"We are convinced, given the number of big-name companies we've spoken with, that if we can get the state to issue a request for proposal, REP, that there will be sufficient competition to drive the cost (of construction) down and to drive the tolls down," Pohorelsky said.

The task force and Chamber SWLA are working with the Southwest Louisiana legislative delegation to file necessary legislation that will be introduced in the 2019 session this June. If the state DOTD is on board and sends out RFPs by December of this year, the project could kick off as soon as August of 2020.

In response to misinformation about the proposal he has seen on social media, Pohorelsky said no state, local or federal dollars will be required; local, state and federal governments will transfer all risks associated with construction and design to the private developer; title to the bridge does not go to the private developer; no one on the task force will make money from this project; a foreign government is not going to own the bridge, it will be state-owned; developers have to comply with all requirements that anyone constructing a bridge on the interstate would; the state's DOTD will be involved and will review plans.

The I-10 Bridge Task Force has already spent about $40,000 in evaluating options, advocating, lobbying and marketing. It is estimated that the total expenditure by the task force will be $300,000.

Pohorelsky said each task force member has made a substantial contribution to the fund, beyond their own time investment.

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