Parish presidents, DOTD head meet on Sen. Rick Ward’s bridge proposal

Five parish presidents will have to approve the funding mechanism for what is merely being referred to as "a south bridge," meaning south of the Horace Wilkinson Bridge shown here, then it will go before the voters in those five parishes.

To get the ball rolling on a new Mississippi River bridge, the presidents of five parish governments along with representatives from East Baton Rouge City Parish government and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development met for the first time last Thursday.

Iberville Parish President Mitchell Ourso was one of the attendees at the meeting regarding a bridge proposed in a bill introduced by state Sen. Rick Ward and recently signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Ourso said his intention was to just hear what those involved with the massive project had to say.

The cost of the bridge is expected to be over $1 billion and the leaders of all five parishes involved – Iberville, Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Livingston and West Baton Rouge – will have to agree on the funding mechanism for the project.

“I have had zero communication with any other parish president about this new bill that our senator, Rick Ward, had passed in the legislature,” Ourso said, although he expected the first meeting would be about the five parish representatives “coming up with a with a taxing authority to handle transportation issues here in the Baton Rouge metro area.”

The meeting was facilitated by an organization known by the acronym CRISIS, or Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions.

CRISIS’ website describes the organization’s “mission is to provide a leadership voice from the Capital Region transportation crisis by identifying solutions and advocating for their protection and funding.”

“This is the first meeting for us to discuss how do we create the infrastructure needed and what they call – and I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this – a ‘south bridge,’” Ourso said Thursday, prior to the meeting.

“All five parishes have to agree according to this bill to some kind of funding mechanism that all five parishes have to agree on,” he continued.

After the five parishes agree on a funding mechanism, “the proposal will be put in front of the voters in their respective parishes to fund infrastructure transportation issues in this area.”

Ourso said he was entering into the process without any preconceived ideas.

“I want to go into this with an open mind where all five parishes get together and come to an agreement about how we are going to raise the money,” he said.

Ourso said Ward’s bill allows for the parishes involved to using a property tax, a sales tax or tolls to fund the project.

He said he believed once the funding mechanism was decided by voters in the five parishes, the discussion will turn to the location of what is only being described as a “south bridge,” as in one south of the Horace Wilkinson Bridge, commonly referred to by the area’s residents as the “new bridge,” although it was opened in 1968, 50 years ago.

“I want to go into this meeting with an open mind and work as a team with the five parishes,” Ourso said. “…I’m going to be quiet and behave myself.”

He did say he was pleased the concept is being described even in this earliest stage as a “south bridge.” “I’m good with that.”