While several state lawmakers lobby the Legislature for infrastructure funding to build a new Mississippi River bridge, among other transportation projects, efforts are also underway on the federal level that U.S. Rep. Garret Graves hopes will help support a new bridge.
Much of the national focus has been on talk of a massive $2 trillion federal infrastructure plan, which basically fell apart Wednesday. But there’s another, perhaps less talked about, avenue for transportation funding on the table this year—the FAST Act reauthorization bill.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, signed into law in 2015 as a five-year $305 billion infrastructure funding plan, is set to expire Sept. 30, 2020. Congress must reauthorize the bill before then, or the funding source will dry up.
The 2015 FAST Act helped fund critical Baton Rouge area projects, such as the Washington Street exit reconfiguration and the widening of Interstate 10. Graves, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, played a central role in securing the federal dollars for Louisiana’s projects. All told, he says, the state received $760 million in additional federal transportation funding since the 2015 FAST Act.
The Baton Rouge congressman is now working with fellow lawmakers on a FAST Act reauthorization bill, hopefully this year, which could help fund the new bridge. But there must be a concrete project in place for the bridge, he says, to receive funding.
Graves met last week with the five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge District, which is tasked with developing the new Mississippi River span.
“If there is a reauthorization bill, as I said at the meeting last Monday, ya’ll have to come up with your project,” Graves says. “As soon as they do, I’m ready to help. But we need some type of project we can point to rather than just saying we need a new bridge.”
In short, the coalition needs to decide and approve plan specifics—location and cost, among many decisions, as well as how it will be built.
Graves’ original objective with the 2015 FAST Act was the bridge, he says, but at that time there was no project, so he’s pushing the five-parish coalition this time around to have that ready to go.
“I think it’s great that they have everyone in the room with a singular focus,” Graves says of the coalition. “The progress being made is good.”
The CARBD, which was formed last year, has been working on preliminary steps, such as completing the environmental impact study and drafting an RQF, to move forward with the new bridge.
But there’s no guarantee the reauthorization bill will happen this year, due to the political environment, which has stalled larger infrastructure plans.
“If we do it this year, there’s a chance it gets punted, and next year being a presidential election year, things get too political to have merit-based discussions,” Graves says. “That’s why we’d like to get it done this year.”