Congratulations to a local task force appointed by the Chamber SWLA that has come up with what appears to be the only workable plan so far to replace the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River. The six-lane bridge would be constructed in three years through a public/private partnership, and the cost would be repaid over time through tolls.
No one wants to pay tolls, of course, but waiting for the state to fund a new bridge could be a decade or more away, if even then. The state has a road and bridge construction and maintenance backlog approaching $14 billion, and none of that includes new bridges here and at Baton Rouge.
There would still be free access to the I-210 Bridge, and electronic tolls on the I-10 Bridge like those used in Houston and other cities would be reduced for local drivers. Out-of-state motorists would pay most of the tolls.
John Pohorelsky, a task force member, said, “None of us want an unreasonable toll. The cost of a toll is so affordable when you consider sitting in traffic for an hour or two like we are now.”
The task force estimated construction of the proposed bridge would begin in 2020 and cost between $400 million and $600 million. The proposed bridge would include pedestrian walkways and entrance and exit ramps at Sampson Street over the railway into Westlake.
The proposals for new bridge alternatives sought by the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) estimated the cost at $800 million, and that didn’t include exit ramps into Westlake, task force spokesmen said.
All of the new bridge construction would be supervised under regulations of local, state and federal governments. The DOTD would review the bridge design and constructions plans and oversee the work done by the private company.
The task force said it had already heard from companies that are interested in submitting bids for the project. It would like for DOTD to issue a request for proposals by December.
Other more acceptable ways to build the bridge have been proposed at the state Legislature since 2015, but getting the 70 votes (two-thirds) needed in the state House never came close. The state’s 20-cent gasoline tax is worth about 7 cents in today’s dollars, but lawmakers have stubbornly refused to budge on the issue.
Former state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, sponsored two gasoline tax bills at the 2015 legislative session, and one of them would have funded a new bridge here and at Baton Rouge and 14 other mega projects. It provided for a 1-percent increase in the state sales tax for 10 years, which would raise $792 million annually,
The bill cleared the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees with unanimous votes. However, the full House vote was 50-46, 20 short of the 70 needed and the bill never came up for reconsideration.
St. Germain had another measure that proposed to levy an additional 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the state’s 20-cent gasoline tax for a 10-year period, raising $300 million annually. It cleared the Ways and Means Committee 7-3, but never came up for a full House vote.
State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, sponsored a bill at the 2017 session that proposed a 17-cent increase in the gasoline tax, which would have raised $551.6 million annually. It cleared the Ways and Means Committee on a close 9-7-1 vote, but never came up for a vote in the full House.
Carter said the 70 votes weren’t there, even if he reduced the proposal to 10 cents per gallon. He also mentioned the Interstate 10 Bridge here, saying he hoped no lives would ever be lost like they have been in other areas of the country where bridges collapsed.
Keith DuRousseau, chairman of the local bridge task force, said Friday that the National Bridge Registry has rated the local I-10 bridge a 6.6 out of 100. He said the I-35 West Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis had a rating of 50 when it collapsed in 2007.
The local bridge had a 50-year life span when it opened in 1952. It was designed for 37,000 vehicle crossings per day, and in 2016 an average of 81,710 vehicles crossed the bridge daily.
The next steps are to get area lawmakers to enact the necessary legislation at the upcoming fiscal session and have the governor issue a request for proposals for private ventures to design, finance, construct and maintain the new bridge.
The task force has done its job, and now it’s time for area motorists to offer their input. We know many of them won’t like the toll idea, but it appears at this point to be the only logical way to get a new bridge started and completed.
The work of this task force is a great example of, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”