The state Department of Transportation and Development, along with the five-parish bridge authority, hopes to select a consulting team by the end of the year for pre-construction planning necessary for a new Mississippi River bridge.
Following the Request for Qualifications process, which closed at the end of August, DOTD will now begin narrowing down proposals to create a shortlist of engineering and consulting firms. The five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge District will then sit in on presentations by those firms.
DOTD expects to select a consultant by the end of 2019 based on presentation scores and qualifications, says secretary Shawn Wilson.
The chosen firm, which will likely include a team of engineering and consulting companies, will work with a DOTD project manager to begin the first stage of federally required planning analyses for a new bridge, for which Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has committed $5 million in state surplus dollars.
CARB-D chairman Jay Campbell says this stage of work will help the bridge project to be shovel-ready and determine the bridge’s location, as well as the use of potential toll fares. It will also ensure the project is eligible for federal dollars in the future.
“It’s key that we maintain eligibility for federal funding,” Campbell says. “There are things you must do and protocols to follow to maintain eligibility for any federal support.”
While the process might seem slow, and the public appears exasperated with years of plans but no action, these are “the right steps” toward building a new bridge, says Scott Kirkpatick, executive director of CRISIS, an industry-led group pushing for infrastructure solutions.
“Absent these steps, you cannot abide by the law and get permits to build a bridge,” Kirkpatrick says.
But it’s important to note, he adds, the region has done some form of this in the past and efforts have failed—typically falling apart when it came to picking a location for the bridge.
“Just because we’ve started down this road doesn’t mean we finish it—that’s where we have to be different,” Kirkpatrick says. “Selecting the corridor is the first step. You have to get permits for the location. Unfortunately, we failed at that in the past. Several efforts got part of the way down this path, people get upset about location and it falls apart.”
Kirkpatrick is optimistic this time around, though, because the business community has rallied around the new bridge, alongside elected officials, in a way it never has before to highlight the importance of the project from an economic development standpoint.
“If nothing else,” he adds, “we have history to show us what happens if we don’t come to an agreement.”