Former Associated Grocers President and CEO Jay Campbell has been tapped to replace developer Mike Wampold as the governor’s appointee on the five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge District.
The appointment was confirmed late Wednesday, ahead of the district’s second meeting scheduled for April 9, according to the governor’s office and state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who sponsored legislation creating the five-parish coalition last year.
Wampold, originally selected in September to be Gov. John Bel Edward’s appointee, decided to step down due to time management, Ward says, though he still plans to be an advocate for the district. Wampold could not be reached for comment.
Campbell, a well-known Baton Rouge businessman who led Associated Grocers for more than 20 years, will now join the district as one of its seven members: the presidents of the five parishes—East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension and Livingston—as well as the DOTD secretary and the governor’s appointee.
The five-parish district is tasked with exploring ways to finance a new bridge across the Mississippi River, but Campbell says the district is to also handle the preliminary tasks necessary to begin development of a bridge.
“The goal as stated in the legislation is to get all preliminary approvals and processes accomplished so that the development, building and installation of a bridge becomes a reality in this region,” Campbell says. “It’s been a long need in this area and hopefully we see this happen.”
The legislation that created the regional authority also allows the district to pursue a variety of funding options from tolls to taxes, which must be approved by voters.
Meanwhile, another effort to fund the new bridge, among other things, is underway with state Rep. Steve Carter’s bill to raise the state gas tax for critical infrastructure projects. This is the second attempt at the gas tax hike in three years, the first of which failed in 2017.
But such an effort faces an uphill battle, Ward says.
“In my mind, we continue to work on trying to put together something to get a bridge built regardless of whether the state comes through with dollars or not,” Ward adds. “I would love for the state to wake up tomorrow and say, ‘We have the ability to build it; there is no longer a need for the bridge authority.’ But I don’t see that happening right now.”