Louisiana’s congressional delegation and a roomful of state legislators got the bridge message loud and clear here last week at the 14th annual Legis-Gator luncheon. The popular affair is sponsored by the Chamber/Southwest Louisiana and the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
The need for a new Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River has been evident for some time now. President Trump was made aware of that when he visited the Cameron LNG facility in Hackberry on May 14.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and the state’s senior senator, reminded the 1,000 in attendance at last week’s luncheon of the president’s involvement. He said he advised the president that a promise to build the bridge would be a tremendous plus for his re-election campaign in 2020.
“I didn’t know it was going to be that popular,” Trump said during his May visit after guaranteeing a new I-10 bridge if he is re-elected.
Once the news of that presidential promise got out, there was a sudden backlash from area residents who are opposed to using tolls to help finance a new bridge. They made it clear tolls were now out of the picture.
It wasn’t the first time President Trump promised someone a new bridge. In 2016, four days before the presidential election that he won, Trump promised to fix or replace the decaying and dangerous Brent Spence Bridge across the Ohio River at Cincinnati, Ohio. The motorists there are still waiting for that repaired or new bridge. The cost of a new one is approaching $3 billion.
Anyone who criticizes Trump for his failure to deliver on his promises had better be prepared for criticism from his supporters. When I mentioned on a professional website that Trump had failed to deliver on his Ohio bridge promise, one of his supporters said Rome wasn’t built in a day and nothing the president does will ever be good enough for his critics.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, RAlto, and a candidate for Louisiana governor, jumped on the “promise a bridge” bandwagon at a local news conference near the I-10 bridge. Abraham also seized the occasion to say a new bridge wasn’t in Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards re-election plans.
Edwards seized his bridge opportunity at last week’s Legis-Gator luncheon. The governor promised to put $85 million out of this year’s state budget surplus into next year’s capital outlay bill for the bridge project. He noted that money is the state’s 10 percent funding share, with the federal government needing to put up its usual 90 percent.
What many people forget is that presidents and governors can make all of the promises they want, but nothing happens until Congress and state legislatures find the money to get it done.
Edwards last week acknowledged Congress has to find money to pay for its 90 percent share of a new interstate bridge here.
President Trump and the newly elected Democratic U.S. House appeared ready to work together on infrastructure (road, bridge, port and airport) funding shortly after last year’s mid-term elections.
“We have a lot of things in common on infrastructure,” Trump said.
Trump and Democratic Party leaders agreed on a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. The Washington Post reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they were excited about the conversation she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had with Trump. Schumer called it “very constructive.”
Unfortunately, both sides had the same problem politicians have when they make difficult promises. There was no agreement on how to pay for the expensive proposal. Democratic leaders say that’s Trump’s problem.
Trump said, “We’re being played by the Democrats. I think what they want me to say is, ‘Well, what we’ll do is raise taxes’ … and then they’ll have a news conference, see, Trump wants to raise taxes.”
The Post reported that Trump abruptly ended a meeting with Democratic leaders on infrastructure, telling reporters Democrats would have to choose between “investigations” or “investment.”
“Instead of walking in happily to a meeting, I walk in to look at people who said I was doing a cover-up,” Trump said in April. “You can’t do (infrastructure) under these circumstances.”
The next month, Politico reported that Trump said the infrastructure plan would have to take a backseat to a trade deal. It was also reported that Democrats were hoping that Republicans would support a federal gasoline tax increase or another revenue source for infrastructure.
None of that looks promising and that means any hope for substantial federal funding for a new I-10 bridge here isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The private-public partnership (P3) proposed by the task force appointed by the Chamber/Southwest appears to be the most logical approach at the moment.
Tolls would definitely have to be part of P3 funding for a new bridge, and they are as unpopular as higher taxes. However, Congress can’t seem to come up with a better solution.