Bridge District eyes infrastructure money for new Miss. River Bridge

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – A resolution approved Monday at the State Capitol asks Congress to funnel money from proposed federal infrastructure legislation for construction of a Mississippi River bridge to begin by 2029.

Federal funds in the forthcoming infrastructure bill could help speed up plans for a new Mississippi River Bridge to connect from La. 1 to La. 30, which would ease traffic along Interstate 10 and La. 1.

Members of the multi-parish Capitol Area Road and Bridge District request Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers appropriate and direct the allocation of the funds for the planning, specifications and full funding to bring to fruition the long-desired plans for a bridge that would connect La. 1 along the Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes with La. 30 along the St. Gabriel/Baton Rouge corridor.

The proposed project carries an estimated $1 billion price tag.

The proclamation comes less than a week after Congressman Garret Graves said acquisition of funds for a new bridge would top his priority list on a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure bill in the planning phase in Congress.

"The extraordinary and likely once-in-a-lifetime availability of flexible federal dollars could be an opportunity for transformational investment in Louisiana; therefore, I urge you to dedicate no less than $1 billion of these funds to transportation investment infrastructure, which could include major bridge crossings in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles," Graves said in a letter to Edwards, Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

The state is set to receive $3.2 billion in federal funding as part of the package.

“If we could get some of those federal dollars that will be floating around out there, that will be critical for the project … right now, there’s no money there,” said Hank Grace, an economic development liaison for Iberville Parish Government, who attended the meeting on behalf of Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso. “Every bit of money will help.”

The money would play a huge part in making the project a reality, but it would not put the brakes on the plethora of studies required before construction would begin.

The project remains firmly in the planning phase, which could make a big difference as the project continues, according to Shawn Wilson, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“I think we’re in a good place because they’re all steps we need to take, and they’re going to help us make a better decision or the best possible decision on where to build the bridge and what it’s going to take,” he said. “All of that rolls into the cost of the bridge and the best possible plans and utility for the accessing the bridge. It’s all legitimate, and all part of what we want to do, and it’s why we’ve made the $5 million investment into this process using the advanced planning and the ideally more narrowed process,” Wilson said. “We don’t want this to be caught up in an analysis paralysis where you don’t make a decision, but we want to make a decision on good facts and data that we can actually deliver.”

Aside from the required environmental studies, much of the discussion will hinge upon where to build the bridge.

The state needs to determine a site that will come in compliance with federal environmental regulations at the same it serves as many motorists as possible on both sides of the river.

The area near Dow Chemical – which occupies the boundary line between Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes – could be an ideal site, WBR Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot said.

“If it’s not too far south, people from Addis and Brusly will go south to cross the river,” he said. “If it goes much farther south, you’re going too far south, you’ll pull traffic away from the Sunshine Bridge.”

Aside from the federally mandated studies, the location will play an intricate role in the move forward, Wilson said.

A long road looms before the final decision on location of the bridge.

“It’s still a long way from doing that because each bridge location comes with unique costs and obligations, and each bridge will have a different construction methodology, potentially, in terms of span,” Wilson said. “Ideally, it’s about where you will tie in … you don’t want a bridge you can’t access very easily or one that won’t attract traffic.

“It’s all valued and part of a larger decision, as opposed to making a decision on spending a billion dollars and nobody being able to get to it,” he said. “We don’t want this to be caught up in an analysis paralysis where you don’t make a decision, but we want to make a decision on good facts and data that we can actually deliver.”