NEWS

Prospective sites for new Mississippi River Bridge pared down

Staff Report

Prospective sites for a Mississippi River bridge between Port Allen and the Sunshine Bridge could be pared down significantly by mid-to-late May, according to the project manager for the site selection.

Ten sites remain on the list, but the aim is set toward a reduction to only three sites by May, a consultant for the project told the Capital Area Road & Bridge District at meeting Monday at the State Capitol.

The bridges would link La. 1 on the west side to La. 30 on the east side.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso (right) said he remains confident that a portion of the funding for a new Mississippi River Bridge will remain in the proposed 2022 budget. Shown on the left is West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot.

Seven of the sites are in Iberville Parish, two others are in East Baton Rouge and one is in Ascension. The reduction to one site may not happen before the end of the session, according to Kara Moore, project manager for Atlas Technical Consultants.

The process would shift toward environmental evaluations by summer, with a projected completion by summer 2024.

Several prominent legislators, including Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, recently said they would not support the $500 million allocation Gov. John Bel Edwards recommended for the project if the site selection is not completed by the end of the current legislative session.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said he remains optimistic that the funding will remain in the budget once lawmakers ratify it.

“I think when the three sites are selected, that will hopefully make the lawmakers understand,” he said.

The extra time needed to pare the selection to one site created concern for West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot, who feared House and Senate Republicans will scrap the project.

“If we don’t have anything in place by the end of the session, we may have a hard time keeping this money,” he said.

The costs adjustments based on inflation could run the price tag from $1.293 billion to $1.9 billion.

The rate of inflation could also cause the right-of-way costs to increase significantly, said Dr. DITD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson.

The inflation makes it critical to secure right-of-way before the environmental studies begin, he said.

“If we wait three more years, we may not be able to afford the right of way,” said John Diez, who spoke on behalf of Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment.

One key element needs to fall into place for the project to reach its full potential, said Republican Senator Rick Ward of Port Allen.

State Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, urged members of the Capital Area Roads and Bridges District to strike a compromise on a site for the new Mississippi River Bridge to ensure the project moves forward.

“The main that we need to do is collectively form a consensus on where the location will be,” he said. “I don’t want to see us come this far and fail because we can’t agree. It might not be the place we’re most happy with or where most others are happy with.

“But we need to find a place, come together and move forward,” Ward said. “At the end of it all, sooner than later, we will all be driving across the bridge and not doing something just monumental for our region, but for the entire state because of impact on economy, travel of people east and west and even coming from north of New Orleans or south of here.”

The future of the regional economy hinges on the construction of the bridge, Ourso said.

“This is a big major project with the industry growth with the number of construction workers and housing, as well as the trucking industry and the economy we have in south Louisiana with industry … this is big, big, big,” he said. “Hopefully, we can see the fruits of all this hard work in 10 years if the decision is made.”

Board chairman Jay Campbell closed the meeting with a plea for the committee members to collectively work toward an agreement that can move the project forward.

“I’ve been in Baton Rouge over 50 years, and I grew up in Caddo Parish,” he said. “If you’ve ever been to Shreveport in the last 30 years, you’ll see that it’s easy to go east, west, north or south in a matter of minutes.

“It has a lake and a water supply, and they didn’t let this stop it from happening,” Campbell said. “We don’t need to let this stop us, either.”

OPEN HOUSE SCHEULE

  • April 25, Bluebonnet Regional Branch Library, Baton Rouge April 25.
  • April 26, St. Gabriel Community Center.
  • April 27, Addis Community Center.
  • April 28, Donaldsonville High School Gymnasium
  • May 2, Lamar Dixon Expo Center Banquet Hall, Gonzales.
  • May 3, Carl F. Grant Civic Center, Plaquemine.