Louisiana Senate Finance Committee approves $300M for new Mississippi River bridge plan

Staff Report

The state Senate Finance Committee approved funding Sunday that could lead to construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge, but it’s 40 percent less than what Gov. John Bel Edwards recommended for the project.

Committee members at the State Capitol allocated $300 million allocation for the initial phase that Edwards and other supporters hope will lead to an artery that would connect La. 1 on the west to La. 30 on the east.

The proposed budget Gov. Edwards unveiled in January recommended $500 million for studies and other legwork that would lead to federal funding for the bridge, that could be located anywhere from Addis to south of White Castle.

Louisiana State Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, has led the pack at the Capitol on efforts to secure funds for the bridge.

“We’re in a great place, and its puts us in very good spot … that alone with the bill that goes to House Appropriations,” said state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who has led the pack at the Capitol on efforts to secure funds for the bridge.

Some lawmakers initially wanted to hold funding down to $200,000, he said.

The $300,000 approval came amid concerns from state and local officials that lawmakers would completely bypass the governor’s recommendation, which would have derailed any immediate progress on bridge plans.

The funding approval will keep the wheels turning on the plan, Ward said.

“We’re in a good position to get things started,” he said.

Claims that the state has no money for the project have no traction, Edwards said in his address last week to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.

The state will have an additional $350 million in its general funding budget and $104 million in projected money for next fiscal year, the Revenue Estimating Conferenced announced last week.

Millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are also available, the governor said.

“The $500 million is a good target and I’ll continue to push for it,” Ward said. “But the main thing for me is that it would be significant enough for everyone involved, including the potential contractors and public/private partners across the country that we’re going to do this.

“Even if we end up with $300 million, it puts us in that category,” he said.

The $500 million represents 20 percent of the estimated $2.5 billion price tag for the new bridge and the roadways leading to the artery.

Ward – along with Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso and West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot – have been among those on the front line to get the wheels turning on the project.

Ourso has said repeatedly that the Plaquemine Ferry cannot absorb the hours-long delays that motorists face simply to get to and from work each day.

Berthelot, meanwhile, said the partisan politics should not dictate the discussion.

“This shouldn’t be about politics – it should be about what’s right,” Berthelot said.

Other parish leaders recognize the need for the project.

Pointe Coupee Parish President Major Thibaut, who served 11 years in the state House of Representatives said the benefits of a new bridge would extend far beyond Baton Rouge.

“You also have a lot of industry nationwide that relies on that corridor,” he said. “Any time you have traffic issues, that’s time and time is money … it’s a problem that needs to be solved.”

The need – and the available revenue – make the project seem like a wise decision, he said.

“It’s gridlock, and it doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that it’s not how our roads, bridges and trans system are supposed to work,” Thibaut said. “Our state has the money to do the project, and they may not have this opportunity again.”

State Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne has said lawmakers cannot afford to pass the opportunity to end the miles of gridlocks motorists face daily along La. 1 and Interstate 10.

“The time to build the bridge is now,” he said. “If it’s not now, the question is when? That’s a question everyone needs to be asking.”