Developer Mike Wampold has been tapped to serve as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointee on a five-parish regional taxing authority tasked with exploring ways to finance a third bridge across the Mississippi River.
The Capital Area Road and Bridge Authority was created in May by the Legislature, and its leadership comprises the presidents of the five parishes of the chronically gridlocked Capital Region—East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston—as well as the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, and the governor’s appointee.
Wampold is the final appointee to the commission, meaning the authority can now begin exploring the various ways a new bridge—estimated to cost some $1.5 billion—might be funded.
“The ultimate goal is to find the revenues to move forward with a bridge somewhere south of the city—and not just the bridge but the infrastructure leading to the bridge that could also relieve some pressure on I-12,” Wampold says. “It’s a long-term process but if you don’t start at some point it will never happen.”
Language in the law creating the authority is broad and 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.
There are differing opinions within the business community in Baton Rouge and at the state level about how much public money would be needed. Some have suggested the new bridge could be financed almost entirely with tolls. Others say several hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal money will be needed.
Wampold believes it will likely take a combination of funding sources. He points to the growing number of highway and bridge construction projects around the country funded through public-private partnerships as examples the authority will look to.
“There is state money available and federal money,” he says. “You’d also have to look at taxes maybe, and tolls would probably play a part.”
Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who sponsored the legislation creating the five-parish authority, says efforts are underway to create a new bridge PAC that will raise money to conduct research on which financing options would be feasible and palatable.
“We want to reach out to the general public to see what they would like to see in terms of funding sources for a new bridge and, if it’s tolls, what is the cutoff—three dollars, four dollars, five dollars?” Ward says. “At what point does it start to diminish itself? We’ve got to generate some money to collect information to base our decisions on.”