Louisiana officials weighing how to spend billions in infrastructure cash

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(Photo by Tim Mueller)

Members of Congress are still bickering over the wisdom of passing a $1 trillion infrastructure package, but Louisiana lawmakers and state officials have moved on to developing plans for spending the influx of cash for roads, bridges, coastal protection, broadband internet and more.

As President Joe Biden readies to sign the bipartisan legislation today, state agencies and lawmakers are starting to sift through the measure’s thousands of pages, determine what the dollars can fund and strategize for how to apply for the discretionary cash that will be available.

Some of the financing in the bill—which Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy helped to negotiate—will require the state to put up matching dollars. Some of the money will flow through traditional highway and coastal project financing streams while other dollars will require Louisiana to compete against other states. Some of the pots of money will be governed by federal rules and regulations that have yet to be developed.

“It’s horribly complicated,” says Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

At a minimum, Louisiana is expected to get $7.2 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, airports, broadband improvements, and water system upgrades among other things, according to information from the White House.

But the state also is eligible for billions in additional programs. Cassidy says. For example, the $2.5 billion included in the legislation for coastal storm risk management is tailored so narrowly that Louisiana is one of the only states that will meet the eligibility requirements.

It likely will be months or longer before Louisiana officials know how much money the state will receive. And the list of wants and needs for infrastructure financing is long.

Louisiana has a $15 billion backlog of road and bridge repairs; a $15 billion wish list of new bridges, interstate widenings and other highway projects aimed at addressing traffic problems; a multibillion-dollar backlog of water system needs; and other coastal projects and infrastructure proposals that have been on the drawing board for years.

Wilson says he’s already received many calls from lawmakers proposing dollars be steered to their favored road and bridge projects. State House Appropriations Chair Jerome “Zee” Zeringue says he’s also hearing from colleagues with ideas for how to spend the federal infrastructure cash. Read the full story.