With lawmakers’ passage Monday of a bill that will direct $700 million in BP settlement funds to key highway projects—including $125 million for a long-awaited La. Hwy. 415 connector to La. Hwy. 1 in West Baton Rouge—the Capital Region Delegation is celebrating at least one win in the transportation infrastructure category.
Several other measures that Baton Rouge-area lawmakers and lobbyists were pushing to help alleviate the region’s chronic gridlock didn’t fare so well this session.
Two bills that passed the House and would have directed some $650 million a year to highway and bridge projects were killed late last week by the Senate Finance Committee.
Earlier in the session, Baton Rouge Rep. Steve Carter’s proposed gas tax bill, which would have delivered much-needed funds to a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, also died, when a House committee refused to take it up.
“For a session where there was an unwillingness at the statewide level to advance major transportation funding bills, the capital region is doing what it can to advance its key priorities,” says Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of the group CRISIS, which lobbies for transportation funding.
Now that the session is winding down, the Capital Region delegation is looking to the future to see how it can continue to advance several key transportation infrastructure projects, namely a new bridge. Earlier today, the delegation met with officials from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to explore potential sources of funding for the Capital Region Road and Bridge District, a taxing district created during the 2018 session.
The five-parish district needs $5 million or so in development funds to select a corridor for the new bridge and get it ready for construction funding, Kirkpatrick says.
Though there’s been no plan for funding a new bridge across the river, which will cost more than $1 billion and take a decade to complete, Kirkpatrick says the district is trying to put the pieces in place so if and when a plan materializes the region is ready.
“We’ve got to fund the development work to select the corridor and get it positioned for construction funding,” he says. “The bypass route has been elusive for the capital region so we’re hoping we can work through that and select a route … and that $5 million should carry us through the next few years.”