Edwards signs transportation bill; could lead to new bridge

Staff Report

A transportation bill signed last week by Gov. John Bel Edwards could get the wheels turning on a long-awaited project for the Greater Baton Rouge region.

House Bill 514, sponsored by Republican House member Tanner Magee of Houma and cosponsored by state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, includes funding that would pave the way for construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge south of Baton Rouge.

The legislation would allow for a transfer of up to $300 million a year from vehicle sales tax revenue, which would go to new infrastructure.

In addition to a new bridge across the Mississippi, the fund also would also help with the widening of Interstate 10 from La. 30 to La. 11.

Under the legislation, 75 percent of the money would go toward mega projects, such as bridges. The remaining 25 percent would be funneled into preservation of existing roadways.

Sales tax from vehicle sales funnels approximately $500 million a year into the state coffers.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales

Construction of a bridge has been one of the biggest priorities for officials along the Westbank, most notably Iberville Parish President Mitchell Ourso.

The issue has also been a focal point for the legislative delegation from the area including House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, state Rep. Chad Brown of Plaquemine and fellow House members Edmond Jordan of Brusly and Jeremy LaCombe of Fordoche, and state Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales.

The House approved the bill on an 87-13 vote, and the Senate gave it the green light on a 37-0 measure en route to the governor’s signature.

Opponents of the bill feared the legislation would put a strain on the state’s general fund and worsen the fiscal situation in the event of a budget fallout.

The state diverted $700 million in settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico to help with road projects.

Earlier in the 2021 session, lawmakers snubbed a proposal from state Rep. Jack McFarland that would have hiked the gas tax 10 cents a gallon. It would have marked the first increase in the fuel tax since 1988.

Legislators also shied away from Ward’s bill that would have made the 0.45-cent sales tax permanent after its expiration in 2025. Funds from that tax would have gone toward improvement and construction of roads and highways.

The road repair backlog at the state Department of Transportation and Development hovers around $14 billion.