Baton Rouge lawmakers identify funding source for new Mississippi River bridge

A bill filed today by three members of the Capital Region delegation would extend a .45-cent sales tax and dedicate the money, in part, to the construction of a new bridge across the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge.

HB693, co-sponsored by Reps. Paula Davis and Barbara Freiburg, both Republicans from Baton Rouge, and Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, proposes extending the sales tax, currently set to expire in mid-2025, through mid-2031 and dedicating a gradually increasing portion of the tax, which currently goes entirely to the state general fund, into a construction subfund of the state’s transportation fund.

According to the bill, 20% of the revenues in the subfund would be dedicated to maintenance of existing highways and bridges. The other 80% would fund new capacity enhancement projects, including the new south bridge in Baton Rouge as well as highway connectors to the span on both sides of the river.

“LCFOR has always stood for increased funding and there are a historic number of bills this session that would address this,” says Erich Ponti, executive director of the industry-led Louisiana Coalition to Fix Our Roads. “We’re excited to see the Legislature taking this on.”

There’s no fiscal note yet attached to the bill so it’s hard to say how much the measure would generate and how much would go to each of the eight specific projects named in the proposed legislation.

But the money would be enough to at least jump-start the new Mississippi River bridge, which, alone, is estimated to cost at least $1 billion. The state has already allocated $5 million to preliminary engineering and site-selection work, which is currently underway.

The bill would mandate the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to prioritize construction of the bridge and seven other major capacity projects, all long on the state’s wish list, pending federal environmental approval.

Other projects specifically listed in the bill include:

• Replacement of the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles.

• Upgrades to US 90 from I-10 and I-49 at Lafayette to New Orleans.

• Widening I-12 to six lanes and associated improvements where the interstate is not yet upgraded from Baton Rouge to the Mississippi state line.

• A new, four-lane Jimmie Davis Bridge on La. 511 across the Red River in Shreveport.

• Widening to six lanes and associated improvements to I-20 in Monroe.

• US 90, Port of New Orleans access improvements.

• Alexandria-Pineville Beltway improvements.

Transportation infrastructure lobbyist Scott Kirkpatrick, who heads the industry group CRISIS, says it’s too soon to predict how the bill might fare but says including projects from around the state will help its chances.

“I think it represents efforts to find the right mix of what the Legislature wants,” he says. “I think it’s positive you have multiple transportation bills the Legislature can consider.”