Funding source for new Mississippi River bridge advances to full Senate

An infrastructure bill advanced Monday by the Senate Finance Committee could have major implications for Baton Rouge and the quest for a new Mississippi River bridge.

HB514 by Speaker pro tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, was initially drafted to levy a state sales tax on medical marijuana, but it was previously amended by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, to extend the state’s 0.45-cent sales tax and send those dollars to the transportation department’s Construction Subfund, with up to 75% of the revenues going to complete a list of projects.

A portion of the shifted funds will be dedicated to the construction of a new bridge across the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge. 

“Without something like this, we don’t have the ability to pay for [a new bridge],” Ward says. “Right now, we’re going through the engineering process, but once we finish that, we won’t have the funds to move forward with the project. This puts us closer to actually building something.” 

Once the sales tax is extended and fully phased into the Construction Subfund, it’s estimated to generate $375 million annually. However, it’s not yet known what percentage of those annual revenues would go toward the bridge. 

Meanwhile, another portion of the sales tax revenues would help fund the widening of I-12 to six lanes in the Florida Parishes, including East Baton Rouge—another potential boost for the Capital Region.

The state’s transportation industry is applauding the bill. 

Altogether, Louisiana has lacked more than $300 million a year in additional recurring funding for major construction projects, says Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of CRISIS. An additional $375 million in annual funding, such as that offered in the bill, would allow the state to issue bonds for these major construction projects.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest at the Legislature to make that big infrastructure investment this session, which is very encouraging,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’ve never been this late in a session with a major piece of transportation legislation.”

Some other prioritized projects include a new bridge in Lake Charles, the I-49 South expansion from Lafayette to New Orleans and upgrades to I-49 North.

In addition to addressing roads and bridges, the proposed legislation would reduce the business utility tax by 1%, but extend the tax’s remaining 1% levy through 2032.

The bill now moves back to the full Senate for consideration.