DOTD: Proposed I-10 bridge plan ‘can be done’
But disagrees with ‘aggressive’ timeline, solely private funds
The proposed P3 public/private partnership to finance a new Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge is a preferred approach and “can be done,” Shawn Wilson, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development, said in a letter issued on Tuesday. But the department disagrees with relying exclusively on private funding, along with the “very aggressive” timeline to start construction sometime in 2020.
The letter, obtained by the American Press, was addressed to Keith DuRousseau, chairman of the I-10 task force, along with George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. The task force asked the DOTD to send a written response to its recommended bridge replacement proposal following a meeting Jan. 29.
“(We are) still digesting this,” John Pohorelsky, task force member, said of the letter. “We will have a formal response, but not until we’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. We remain committed to the approach we recommended.”
The task force unveiled its proposal Jan. 25, calling for a new I-10 bridge to be completely privately funded and repaid over time through tolls set by the private company in its bid package. It also calls for the bridge to be built within a three-year timeline, with estimated costs ranging from $400-$600 million.
Wilson said “an element of public funding and exceptions” is needed. He added that no public funding sources may lead to more expensive tolls and could put more strain on existing free alternate routes.
“Our responsibility to protect the public’s interest, earn financial close, and deliver and maintain an interstate bridge consistent with federal requirements drives our decision that it should not be pursued as such,” Wilson said of using only private financing.
Along with tolls, Wilson said all funding options should be considered, including federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds, or GARVEE, or federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation ACT loans, or TIFIA.
Wilson also said the task force’s executive summary within its recommendation inaccurately suggested the I-10 bridge “is in pending danger of falling” because it is similar to the I-35 West Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed in 2007. Pohorelsky said last month that the National Bridge Registry rated the I-10 bridge a 6.6 out of 100, while the I-35 West bridge had a rating of 50 when it collapsed.
Wilson said the I-35 bridge had a “fracture critical element that failed,” something the I-10 bridge doesn’t currently have.
“The I-10 bridge has the necessary redundancies to ensure that it is safe based on the national engineering standards of bridge safety and inspections,” he said. “If (it) becomes unsafe, the department will close it, as we have done for similarly situated structures.”
Wilson said the task force’s executive summary is correct in mentioning the state can’t pay for a new bridge because of its “financial constraints.”
He said the DOTD and Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a proposal in 2017 that “would have funded this bridge replacement.” However, House lawmakers didn’t act on the bill.
The DOTD agrees a request for proposal is “a critical step in securing a P3 partner,” but other steps should be done first. They include a request for information, issuing a call for letters of interest, and a request for qualifications.
Wilson said the department warns against making legislative changes related to a P3 approach specifically to the I-10 bridge. The department plans to allocate all money related to the 1994 ethylene dichloride spill to constructing a new bridge.
Wilson said the existing bridge would have to remain open during construction. It also doesn’t advise issuing lower tolls for local drivers. Provisions are in place to keep the I-210 bridge toll-free.
Rendering of a modern technology wide span bridge, proposed by a task force dedicated to replacing the aging Interstate 10/Calcasieu River bridge, would include six lanes and pedestrian walkways.