Freeway or highway? Mississippi River bridge coalition ponders options

The current "new" Mississippi River bridge.

What could a new bridge crossing the Mississippi River look like? The Capital Area Road and Bridge District explored various options during its first meeting this morning at the State Capitol.

“One bridge might cost $800 million, but one at another location might cost $1.1 billion,” says state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who created the five-parish coalition and tasked it with finding a way to fund the new bridge. “There are so many factors—whether it’s going to be a toll road, which locations will spend the most on tolls, and so forth.”

Based on Department of Transportation and Development presentations, the new bridge and its feeder roads could mirror one of two basic, six-lane options: 1) an interstate-quality freeway connecting Interstate 10 in West Baton Rouge Parish to I-10 in Ascension Parish, and 2) a conventional highway and expressway system connecting LA 1 with LA 30. The second option would also include building a connector between LA 415 and LA 1, upgrading LA 1 to the new expressway as well as widening and upgrading LA 30 to expressway standards.

While DOTD Deputy Secretary Eric Kalivoda said the freeway option could be a better long-term investment and generate more toll revenue, it’s also more expensive, more difficult to phase construction and is potentially controversial, with environmental concerns.

Also during his presentation, Kalivoda recommended against including rail in the new bridge, which he said could add anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2 billion to the cost of a highway bridge.

The presentation included several funding options that could lessen the amount of a needed new tax. Construction of a new bridge would eliminate the Plaquemines Ferry, meaning the current value of running the ferry for another 40 years could instead be credited toward the cost of the project. All five parishes could also opt to use their 40-year Road Transfer Program tax credits toward the bridge.

What wasn’t discussed at today’s meeting is who will chair the coalition. Ward says the task will be at the top of the agenda for the next meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled yet but will likely take place in the next four to six weeks.

“Today, there was more of a focus on the information itself,” Ward says. “At the next meeting, they’ll choose who they think will have the time allotment to do it and the ability to deal with everything as it comes forward.”

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