When a task force created by Gov. John Bel Edwards to find new ways to fund state roads and bridges holds its regional meeting Friday in Baton Rouge—the last of several regional meetings around the state—it will be discussing a series of options including new toll roads, a higher gas tax, truck fees and public private partnerships, among other options.
Shawn Wilson, Department of Transportation and Development secretary and chairman of the Governor’s Task Force on Transportation Infrastructure Investment, says all options are on the table, and that the task force has been looking at what has worked well in other states as it explores various ways to address the state’s challenges.
“At each of these regional meetings around the state we’ve had exceptional turnout from business leaders, civic leaders and people in the community,” Wilson says. “People are open to all sorts of ideas.”
Whatever solutions emerge when the task force makes its final recommendations to the governor in early January, Wilson says it will be comprehensive and won’t just focus on how to fund megaprojects like a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. Rather, it will recommend ways to raise new revenues and how to divide that money among new capacity projects—like a new bridge or an interstate expansion, the maintenance and upkeep of existing roads and bridges, and the now $13 billion backlog of DOTD projects already on the books.
“We are going to be looking at all categories and approach this very comprehensive and holistically,” he says. “We have to consider all the needs. It doesn’t do much good to ride across the river on a new bridge if once you get off you’re driving on crumbling roads.”
Wilson says increasing the gasoline tax is one idea that is gaining traction.
Toll roads are also popular with frustrated commuters, who have said in public opinion polls they’d be willing to pay tolls to cut down on congestion and enhance the quality of their roads. But tolls only generate a certain amount of revenue, he says.
“Let’s say a new bridge across the river would cost $800 million,” he says. “Tolls may only generate $300 million. Where are you going to get the rest?”
Those and other issues will be on the agenda for Friday’s meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. and will be held at the BREC headquarters, 6201 Florida Blvd.
The full task force will meet three or four more times before the end of the year to review the feedback from the regional meetings and finalize recommendations to the governor.