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Capital Region moves a step closer in quest to get a new Mississippi River bridge

Baton Rouge, USA – July 13, 2013: Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge, USA. The Horace Wilkinson Bridge is a cantilever bridge carrying Interstate 10 in Louisiana across the Mississippi River. It is the highest bridge on the Missisippi River.

This area’s dream of building a new bridge across the Mississippi River and ending the daily commuting nightmare that is Interstate 10 is inching closer to reality.

The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 496—creating a five-parish regional authority that, among other things, will be tasked with finding a way to finance a new bridge—and sent it to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for final approval. The governor is expected to make a decision next week, and the prospects look favorable.

“We don’t anticipate any concerns, but are in the process of making a final determination,” says Shauna Sanford, the governor’s communications director, in an email this afternoon.

The regional authority, dubbed the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, would have the power to implement tolls, impose parcel fees or levy taxes—subject to voter approval in the five parishes: East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston.

The district’s seven-member board of commissioners will be tasked with devising funding and infrastructure plans, which must include a new bridge. The board will include the five parish presidents, the DOTD secretary or his appointee and a gubernatorial appointee who resides in the district.

“The bill does require a bridge to be built,” says Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who sponsored the legislation. “The board will come up with a plan and a revenue source, whether using tax options available, public-private partnerships, tolls or leveraging dollars drawn from federal funds. We left it as broad as possible.”

Ward says he has no reason to think Edwards would not sign the bill into law. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is also on board and willing to work with the new authority, he adds.

Language in the bill allows the district a variety of funding options, from tolls to four taxing options: levying ad valorem, or property, taxes; imposing an annual parcel fee not to exceed $500; levying a sales tax not to exceed 1%; or issuing bonds secured by ad valorem and sales taxes. Voters in each parish must approve any new taxes or fees.

Although the new district won’t produce immediate traffic solutions, the goal is to set up a structure and governing body that would allow those most impacted by Capital Region traffic issues to come up with their own funding solutions to fix it.

“While we want to move fast, we have to get key things in place,” Ward says. “At this point, people are supportive of anything that will keep them from sitting in traffic for an hour and a half daily. I’m really hoping to have a private partner come in and set up tolls. We have to conduct outreach to the community to see what’s most palatable.”

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