Gov. Edwards renews push for bridge funding after higher revenue projection

Night view of downtown Baton Rouge and the Mississipi River (iStock)

Gov. John Bel Edwards is asking Baton Rouge business leaders to urge lawmakers to support dedicating $500 million for a new Mississippi River bridge in the Capital Region. 

The Revenue Estimating Conference on Monday added $350 million to the state’s current budget surplus, which can only be used for one-time expenses such as roads and bridges. The state Senate will take up the House-approved spending bills on Friday, Edwards says. 

“This is our opportunity to put it on track, to keep it on track, to meet milestones, and actually construct that bridge,” Edwards told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge today. “This is the best opportunity we have ever had, and nobody can guarantee that this time next year we will have another.” 

The state House of Representatives has so far refused Edwards’ request for a $500 million down payment on the estimated $2.5 billion project. Lawmakers are reluctant to dedicate that much money to a project that is years away when they don’t know where it will go, especially considering the infrastructure needs across the state. 

Backers say the state needs to make a significant investment to compete for federal infrastructure dollars and show potential private partners that state leaders are serious about the project. Edwards says the federal government won’t approve a final location without a funding plan, and the environmental review work could become outdated while the state delays, meaning the process would have to start over. 

Edwards also is pressing for $25 million for passenger rail from Baton Rouge to Donaldsonville, which is seen as a first step toward a Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans route. The House has approved half that amount. 

Edwards, who generally opposes abortion, announced his opposition to House Bill 813, which is controversial even among abortion opponents because it would allow prosecutors to charge pregnant patients who undergo abortions with murder, while restricting some forms of contraception and fertility treatments. 

Louisiana’s leading anti-abortion groups also oppose the bill, and House Republicans reportedly plan to strip out the offending language when the bill comes up for a vote Thursday.