George Swift: We need a new bridge, not more talk

By George Swift

We are Southwest Louisiana Strong, comprised of resilient people who have been through natural disasters and well on the road to recovery. The I-10 Bridge over the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles, however, is not strong and needs to be replaced.

In recent days there have been developments in the legislature that might jeopardize this project. It’s the most important piece of concrete on Interstate 10 between California and Florida. We are comfortable competing with other projects because that’s what we do in economic development. However, we don’t think it necessary to have to compete for replacement of this long-outdated bridge.

When considering public safety, it’s not even a close argument. This is a critical project not only for our region but also for the nation’s economy. Built in 1952, our bridge has exceeded its lifespan by well over 20 years. It was originally designed to carry a daily load of 37,000 vehicles. Our current daily load is over 90,000 vehicles and today’s cars and trucks are much heavier than those when the bridge was designed.

The I-10 Bridge is rated 6.6 out of 100 on the National Bridge Inventory. We can’t get much lower. With no shoulders, no lighting, and not enough lanes it is dangerous to drive.

Replacing this bridge has been studied, debated and delayed for over 30 years.  The Chamber SWLA created the I-10 Bridge Task Force in late 2017 which has led to this project being pushed further along than at any time. Local, state, and federal officials all agree the bridge is a priority. Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Secretary of DOTD Dr. Shawn Wilson have committed close to $300 million for the bridge which is expected to cost at least $850 million.  Every day, construction costs are rising, so delays will push the price even higher.

There are efforts in the state legislature to allocate more funding from the Federal Infrastructure Bill (IIJA) and other sources for the bridge and we certainly applaud that. However, at this time the state has issued requests for proposals for the bridge utilizing a “P-3”, a public-private partnership.  Four major organizations are considering submitting their bid which should be received in February of next year. Mixed signals now may discourage bidders. Additional funds would be used to offset a toll so it will be low. More funding could possibly be used to pay tolls for local area residents.

The Chamber SWLA stands firm against any effort that will slow or disrupt this project. We have waited too long and every day this new bridge is delayed, lives of travelers are jeopardized and our economy is threatened.

Let’s applaud the state for moving ahead with this project. What is needed now is to stay out of the way and let the process work. It boils down to this: You are either “For” the bridge or “Against” it. The time for talk and delay is over.    

George Swift is president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. Contact him at 337-433-3632 or gswift@allianceswla.org.

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