An environmental impact study being done for a new Interstate 10 bridge at Lake Charles has been ongoing since the early 2000s, and recently we were told a new bridge can’t break ground any sooner than 2024. If President Donald Trump has his way, that project and many others across the country will get under way much sooner.
Trump wants to fast track road and bridge construction and coastal restoration projects. Environmentalists aren’t happy about it, but the president has a valid point.
“Many of America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process,” the president said. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers. We’re going to have very strong regulation, but it’s going to go very quickly.”
Trump said his new policy called “One Federal Decision” will allow one environmental review per project. He added it will also be able to rely on documents put together at the state and local level to eliminate duplication.
Area residents expressed their views about the bridge delay last month in the American Press and they didn’t mince any words. They also made a lot of sense.
Phyllis Edwards, for example, said, “New bridge will come after it falls in the river, sadly! Federal funding should not depend on Trump’s re-election as our federal taxes have extended long before and beyond his presidency and his political aspirations! What a rip-off!”
Lee E. Crocker said, “What else is new? It is going to take an act of God or it collapsing for anything to get done with it. What’s going to be sad is we will probably still be waiting 10 years from now.”
The Advocate reported that U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who is also environmentally knowledgeable, thinks Trump is on the right track. Graves correctly called the current environmental studies “paralysis by analysis.”
An organizer with the Sierra Club of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast decried Trump’s plans, saying environmental studies make sure there aren’t disastrous consequences from projects. An official at the University of New Orleans told the newspaper the 50-year-old, 1969 federal environment act is due for an update, but remains significant legislation.
Maybe so, but why hasn’t it been updated?
David Helveston, president and CEO of the Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, said, “There are real frustrations from the uncertainty about the process and the timeline. Creating a coordinated, predictable, transparent process will be welcomed.”
Helveston said the delays discourage investment and create a backlog of projects. He mentioned the terrible traffic congestion at the Mississippi River bridge at Baton Rouge and the need for a new I-10 bridge at Lake Charles.
Graves also made another good point. He said an increased percentage of time and money is being spent on non-construction activities and is being wasted on bureaucracy.
“The reality is that we really need to have more dollars actually doing construction activities — turning dirt,” he said.
It comes as no surprise that Democrats are also opposed to Trump’s plans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., his major antagonist, said the administration is “again ignoring science and putting the needs of their special interests friends and donors ahead of the well-being of American families.”
Graves said, “I know you will have people who will say that it will result in trashing the environment. With a majority of projects being built without a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis, there are already practices, procedures and guidelines in place that prevent environmental harm.”
Trump said he believes environmental reviews required for all projects that rely on federal funding or other resources would be limited to two years and “maybe less.”
The Advocate said Trump sidestepped a question about climate change during his news conference announcing the new policy, but expressed other views.
“I’m a big believer in that word: the environment. I’m a big believer,” he said. “I want clean air. I want clean water, and I also want jobs, though.”
The environment is definitely an important consideration any time roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects are being planned. However, when you consider how long it has taken to do the I-10 bridge environmental study here, something has to give. If the president’s plan isn’t the answer, then someone else should come up with a better plan.
The I-10 bridge opened in 1952 and was designed to handle 37,000 vehicles per day. More than 80,000 crossed on average per day in 2016. The terrible traffic delays being experienced in Lake Charles and elsewhere because of unprecedented industrial development have certainly increased those numbers.
Here is hoping we don’t have to wait for the solution proposed by Curtis Rogers. He said if we would just build flying cars, we wouldn’t need a bridge.