Infrastructure Week: I-10 bridge main focus for SW La.
Monday kicks off United for Infrastructure Week, “A Week to Champion America’s Infrastructure.”
For the Lake Area, it comes on the heels of President Biden’s visit. During his speech Thursday, the president said he was tired of hearing about Infrastructure Week without seeing change.
“It shouldn’t be this hard or take this long to fix a bridge that is this important,” Biden said.
He was in Lake Charles to promote his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and America Jobs Plan.
“The American Jobs Plan is a blue collar blueprint to modernize 20,000 miles of highways and roads and fix the nation’s ten most economically significant bridges which require replacement, bridges which are not safe anymore, which this bridge could be one of them,” Biden said.
“Ideally we would get all the federal funding to pay for the bridge,” said George Swift, SWLA Economic Development Alliance President and CEO, in a meeting with the American Press earlier in the week. “The more federal funding we get, the less we’ll have to toll, the smaller the toll amount.”
After the President’s speech, Swift said it was very “powerful” to have Biden highlight the bridge.
“I think it will help us in getting federal funding,” Swift said.
Swift said the state has already put up $114 million dollars, “thanks to Gov. Edwards.”
The bridge alone is projected to cost around $850 million dollars, Swift said. Some members of Congress are objecting to the size and other aspects of Biden’s trillion-plus plan. Details will most likely be negotiated. A vote on what that bill looks like in its final state will probably happen in July.
U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy has been vocal about his opposition, saying the amount of spending specifically for roads and bridges in the $2.3 trillion plan is low compared to other spending in the plan. On Fox News Sunday, May 2, he said it “is so low and split between 50 states over 5 years, you’re not going to get your bridge.”
Mike Hollier, executive director of ImCal Southwest Louisiana Regional Planning Commission, said “Construction started in 1949 on that bridge,” Hollier said. “That bridge is 70 years old and it was built with the thought in mind that it would have a 50-year lifespan. True we have 80 and 90-year-old bridges in the State of Louisiana still being utilized, but this is an interstate bridge, an interstate highway system transportation network. It can be very discouraging to look at this critical transportation network, just struggling to maintain what it is has.”
The bridge was meant for 30-something thousand vehicle crossings daily, not over 80,000. A significant portion of that traffic is freight, and that’s not projected to decline.
“There should be available funding to support and sustain the interstate highway system,” Hollier said. “The interstate highway is critical infrastructure to this nation. How can you sit here for 30 years debating on how to fund it? I would talk in terms of another bridge over the Calcasieu River, a third bridge. And Cameron doesn’t need a new ferry. Cameron needs a bridge.”
Hollier also pointed out that infrastructure refers to more than just a single bridge. Federal infrastructure dollars have already been directed to water system improvements in the state. Drainage, roads, sewer systems, ports and airports are included under the infrastructure umbrella.
“Infrastructure is not just about roads or drainage or water systems,” Hollier said. “It increasingly involves a fifth utility, public fiber.”
He said the infrastructure challenge to the Southwest Louisiana community is about resiliency, putting utilities underground for instance to protect them from weather events and to do it in increments of two city blocks at a time, so as not to disrupt an entire street of commerce.
“Calling attention to Infrastructure Week and the president’s visit calls attention to the needs we have not only in Southwest Louisiana but all over the state, Hollier said. “The longer we wait, the more projects cost and the more negative impact it has on business and individuals.”
“Hopefully, congress will act soon to get it moving,” Swift added. “This funding will go to the State of Louisiana, and they’ve shown they’re committed to this project.”
I-10 Bridge Task Force members Bart Yakupzack, John Pohorelsky and Keith DeRousseau, from left, discuss their proposal to get a new I-10 bridge built with the American Press editorial board.