A bill to form a commission to devise ways to fund and construct a new bridge across the Mississippi River was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and is now law, said the bill’s author, state Sen. Rick Ward.
“The overall concept is basically the same as the bill I originally filed, with only small changes,” he said. “The commission will be made up with representatives from the five parishes involved, Iberville, East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston and West Batpn parishes.
“One of the changes from the original bill is the make-up of the commission,” Ward said. “It will be made up of each of the parishes’ five presidents or their designees.”
Additionally, the board will consist of seven members, the final two being one appointed by the governor and the other will be La. Department of Transportation and Development Dr. Shawn Wilson.
“A lot of people believe that this is a taxing district and it’s not really,” Ward said. “This is an authority, a board designed to try to put together a plant and the hope is to try and get as much public-private partnership as possible.”
“There are other projects around the state that have done as much as 100 percent of the funding for projects like this through public-private partnerships,” he continued.
Ward said he believes there is a good chance that a private equity firm would buy into the project, bond out 100 percent of the funds needed (around $1.2 billion) and that firm would get paid of with tolls over a very extended period of time,” Ward said.
He said he wants the commission to explore every possible avenue of funding.
“While there are a menu of options for the tax side of this project, our first goal is to try to run as much as we can through a public-private partnership,” Ward said.
“You would also think that some of the chemical plants on both sides of Iberville Parish would seriously consider providing their employees with annual passes,” he continued.
The funding mechanism was not included in the bill, Ward said, because he didn’t want to restrict the commission’s opportunities.
“I didn’t want to hamstring it by just using one option and I wanted to be able to be open as possible on funding options,” Ward said.
“The people I talk to really seem to be interested in knowing about this part of the bill – these dollars generated by the commission cannot be used by the state,” he said. “These dollars have to be used by the five-parish region.”
“These dollars cannot be swept away by the state, they have to remain in this five—parish district and for this project only,” Ward continued, saying many Louisiana citizens recall a multitude of projects the voted for taxes to accomplish, only to have the state shuffle the money into its general fund.
The bill, Act 488, received overwhelming support from both sides of the Legislature. The House voted 81-0-2 in favor, two members were absent, while it passed unanimously through the Senate, 35-0.
“I think that a lot of people like the concept and are hoping they’ll see it be successful,” Ward said.
He confirmed a report that the presidents of four of the five parishes have acknowledged their support of the project, minus the opinion of Sharon Weston Broome, the president of the East Baton Rouge Parish government.
“I have n reason to believe at this point that all of the parish would be willing to work with us,” Ward said.
“I think we’re going to have a good collective effort and I think people are going to be excited about this,” he continued. “I think we’re going to get something done.”