Authority exploring new Mississippi River bridge to meet for first time in January

The five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge Authority is eyeing January for its first official meeting to begin exploring how to fund a new span across the Mississippi River.

The authority was created by the Legislature in May but has held off on meeting while officials waited to see if the MovEBR roads tax proposal would be approved by East Baton Rouge Parish voters, says state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who sponsored the legislation creating the authority.

The approval of the MovEBR tax proves public momentum for traffic solutions is building, Ward says, as people are increasingly frustrated with the region’s chronic gridlock and are ready to do something about it.

Momentum is also growing in the private sector for a new bridge. Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard has repeatedly said in recent weeks that his private equity firm, Bernhard Capital Partners, and others would be willing to back the loan to build a new bridge and collect tolls, indicating a public-private partnership is an increasing possibility.

“In the past, what has held these projects back, people would meet with private investors who just weren’t interested,” Ward says. “To have Jim Bernhard out there saying this can be done—and he intends to help get it done—that’s a huge step forward.”

But Bernhard notes public funding will also be needed to cover the costs of feeder roads and infrastructure to supplement a new bridge.

That’s where the five-parish authority comes in. The authority comprises the presidents of the five parishes of the Capital Region—East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston—as well as the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development, and governor appointee Mike Wampold.

By law, the authority is allowed to pursue a variety of funding options, from tolls to taxing options, which voters in the five parishes would have to approve.

Ward plans to ramp up fundraising efforts in 2019 to conduct research on which financing options would be most feasible and palatable to voters. The authority would then use that information to decide which funding venue to pursue.

So far, the response to his outreach efforts has been positive.

“A lot of people want to help,” Ward says.

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