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BROUSSARD – The completion of the I-49 South Corridor was the focus of One Acadiana’s final installment of its conference Thursday at Billeaud Companies.
The remaining cost of the project, which would transform the 160-mile stretch of U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans into an interstate, is about $3 billion.
That’s the project’s biggest hurdle, One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi said.
But efforts to complete the corridor “one bite at a time” are underway, its advocates said Thursday.
One Acadiana officials were joined by representatives of Billeaud Co., Schilling Distribution, state lawmakers and the I-49 South Coalition, which is now housed within One Acadiana.
As the fourth and final installment of the regional chamber’s “Priorities for a Better Acadiana” series, the organization emphasized that the completion of I-49 South is its top priority.
“U.S. 90 was not designed to handle the amount of traffic it now supports,” said Kam Movassaghi, former secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development. “Parts of U.S. 90 are currently handling more than one and a half times their daily capacity.”
Transforming U.S. 90 into a major corridor could also boost economic growth in South Louisiana by attracting oil and gas industry expansion. It would also improve hurricane evacuation, officials said.
Although funding is scarce for the project, it should be in the forefront of the priority list for state and federal lawmakers, I-49 South Coalition Chairman David Mann said. There’s already $12 billion worth of infrastructure projects in the state’s backlog.
“Roughly $3 billion is required to complete I-49 South alone,” Mann said. “Completing I-49 South and reducing the state’s backlog is going to be a heavy lift, requiring roughly $500 million to $1 billion per year in net additional funding for state transportation infrastructure for the next decade.”
Moody’s Investors Services has given Louisiana a favorable Aa3 rating on $73.7 million in unclaimed property revenue bonds that will be used to continue work on completing Interstate 49 South, State Treasurer John Kennedy said in an issued statement Thursday.
Kennedy said he intends to sell some $70 million to $80 million in bonds, probably within the next few weeks. He said his office is waiting for additional credit ratings to arrive, including one from Standard & Poor’s, in order to bolster the state’s financial reputation and lower the interest the state will pay. He said S&P may respond within the next few days, perhaps as early as Friday, but he cautioned that the ratings services operate independently; there’s no guarantee S&P will issue a favorable report.
“This is a victory for the citizens of Louisiana,” Kennedy said of Moody’s assessment, which came Thursday. “Moody’s could have downgraded us, but they didn’t. They have left us on negative credit watch, and Moody’s is giving new leadership time to fix our problems.” Louisiana will hold state elections on Oct. 24.
Kennedy said he asked Moody’s not to lower the state’s credit rating, which he said was a possibility.
“Moody’s kept us on a negative credit watch,” he said, “but they aren’t going to downgrade us. They will wait for new leadership in Baton Rouge: a new governor, a new Legislature and new officials.
“We had all four wheels in the ditch,” Kennedy said of the state’s fiscal situation. “The Legislature got one wheel out. The next administration deserves a chance to fix this.”
Kristy Nichols, commissioner of administration, was more upbeat about the state’s finances.
“Today’s affirmation from Moody’s reflects that we made concrete progress in structurally balancing the state’s budget. I’m confident that the outlook will improve in the future as the ratings agencies see that we have been responsive in addressing their concerns,” she said in an issued statement.
Louisiana’s bond sale will finance construction on portions of I-49 South, a top priority locally for One Acadiana and, before it, for the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. Excess annual collections from the unclaimed property program pay the debt service on the bonds without anyone losing unclaimed property money, Kennedy said.
As treasurer, Kennedy is authorized by the Legislature to sell up to $200 million in bonds for the highway financing; his office sold $113 million in December 2013. Eighty million dollars more would keep him within the Legislature’s limit. Kennedy said that the bonds are usually purchased by large institutional investors like Fidelity Investments or Goldman Sachs, although some individuals buy government bonds.
In its summary rating rationale, Moody’s noted that Louisiana’s credit rating reflects “continued budget gaps due to underperforming revenues; the use of nonrecurring resources to plug budget gaps; the ongoing slump in the oil and gas markets, and; the challenges the state faces in dealing with rising Medicaid and fixed costs.”
To the good, Moody’s noted the state made progress in narrowing its budget imbalance for 2016 and revenues generated by its recent share of the $18.7 billion settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident.
“There is no denying that Louisiana has serious budget issues. Moody’s noticed that we’re budgeting too much nonrecurring money and not doing anything about our runaway pension liability,” Kennedy said. “We asked Moody’s not to downgrade us and to give the next governor and Legislature time to fix the problems. I’m thankful that Moody’s listened.”
Nichols said the report notes that the fiscal 2016 budget closed a gap of about $1.6 billion by increasing recurring revenues, reducing the use of one-time funding sources to about $550 million and implementing cost savings.
Greater Baton Rouge Business Report – I-49 South has been in the works for decades. But the $3 billion project is coming together, mile by mile.
The signs are still there, strung along U.S. 90 in Lafayette, hinting at an impending interstate that will someday connect the Hub City to the Crescent City. “Future I-49 Corridor,” they read.
These signs are nothing new. I-49 South has been in the works since 1987. So after all these years, what is the status of the proposed interstate corridor? Has the initiative died off or is it still moving forward?
The Department of Transportation and Development says the project is, in fact, alive and well. Over the years, I-49 South has gradually progressed piece by piece. Today the future corridor is more than 50% complete, and several groups, businesses and legislators have gotten behind the push to finish the project.
I-49 South, known as the “Energy Corridor,” comprises the final, 160-mile leg of the interstate that runs along what is now U.S. 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans. Much of the intended route, an estimated 100 miles, is already up to interstate standards, but about 60 miles remain undone, including pricey portions through Lafayette and from Raceland to New Orleans.
“There has been plenty of work done,” says David Mann, chairman of the I-49 South Coalition, a group of business owners who advocate for the funding and completion of the corridor. “You gotta have faith.”
Mann and other proponents say the future corridor will significantly benefit not only Acadiana, but the entire state, by enhancing economic development, increasing safety, reducing travel times and providing an alternate hurricane evacuation route.
“Safety is number one,” says Doug Place, executive vice president of Dupre Logistics, a trucking services company based in Lafayette with locations around the country.
Place says the company’s truck drivers often travel from I-10 in Lafayette to New Iberia, where a number of accidents occur. Having an interstate to travel on, instead of U.S. 90 with traffic and stoplights, would greatly reduce risks and provide a safer, more efficient commute.
Another justification for I-49 South is that it gives commuters driving from Lafayette to New Orleans another route to take instead of I-10, which is infamous for its traffic delays on the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge and when entering Baton Rouge. Place also stressed the importance of I-49 as an alternate hurricane evacuation route.
(Click on map to enlarge)
A BUSINESS PRIORITY
The benefits of the future corridor are clear, but the project has been a long time coming, and people may have lost faith in it along the way. Yet, there seems to be reason for hope again.
“People had been discouraged until about a year ago, but there’s been a renewed interest,” Place says. “By legislators introducing and passing bills, they’re saying it’s time to pay attention to our infrastructure.”
Securing funds for projects like I-49 South is often what holds up the construction process, but proponents say government officials are beginning to recognize the need for the corridor and looking at ways to fund it.
“Both at the federal and state level, we need transportation funding solutions,” says Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of One Acadiana, formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. “Many, many places including Acadiana have had to wait too long for critical infrastructure projects.”
As head of One Acadiana, El Koubi has had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of business owners across Acadiana who have told him I-49 South is a top priority for them. In response, One Acadiana has made the future corridor its top priority as well.
The organization is working to sustain momentum, get the word out and accelerate funding and design plans for I-49 South. Members are also collaborating with gubernatorial candidates to put their support behind the project.
El Koubi says the corridor will have a huge economic impact, especially for the state’s the oil and gas industry as these products are frequently transported along the route, and it will increase tourism in Louisiana by providing a “more robust linkage” between two major tourist areas: New Orleans and Acadiana.
The entirety of I-49 South will cost an estimated $3 billion, says Deidra Druilhet, a spokeswoman at the DOTD. But that price is just half of what the project was originally expected to cost.
“Funding plays a significant role. That’s the ultimate thing,” Druilhet says. “We are strategically placing the funds we do have in the right areas for the project. But of course, it’s a $3-billion project. We’re also looking for alternative sources.”
Several separate sections make up I-49 South. Most have been completed and some are currently being worked on, such as the U.S. 90 Interchange at Ambassador Caffery in Broussard, where the road will be widened to six lanes.
DOTD will also soon award a design-build contract for the U.S. 90 Interchange at LA 318 in St. Mary Parish, expected to begin in late 2015 or early 2016. A number of smaller projects, like creating frontage and service roads, have also been completed over the years.
One of the major sections left is the $750-million Lafayette Connector, which will run from I-10 to Pinhook Road, just past the Lafayette Regional Airport. Druilhet said design work for the connector is set to begin this summer. The other major project is the route from Raceland to the West Bank Expressway, which is in the initial planning stage.
Although a final completion date for I-49 South has not been set, DOTD is fully committed to seeing the project through.
“We want a reliable, efficient, safe highway network,” Druilhet says. “One that will sustain economic development and improve the daily commute for workers.”
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced Monday that it has signed a design-build contract, as part of the Geaux South program, for the construction of the U.S. 90 (future I-49 South) at Louisiana 318 interchange project in St. Mary Parish.
The design-build contractor is Gilchrist Construction Co., who has selected Stantec as its lead designer.
The project will involve upgrading the existing U.S. 90 and Louisiana 318 signalized intersection to a full control of access, grade-separated interchange including the reconstruction of the U.S. 90 frontage roads to provide local access to Louisiana 318.
As part of the plan, the project would improve connectivity for industrial and freight transport to the sugar mill and port-related industries, as well as increase capacity and improve overall mobility.
The $56 million project will be primarily funded with unclaimed property funds.
Work is estimated for completion in just over two years.
The Geaux South program is a $3 billion program dedicated to upgrading U.S. 90 to interstate standards.
See the full article here.
by Ken Stickney
Interstate 49 south efforts are making incremental progress, with a favorable bid received for reworking an intersection in St. Mary Parish and design plans progressing on the route that will link Shreveport to New Orleans, mostly along U.S. Highway 90.
But the big money for executing the project from Lafayette to New Orleans, the southern portion of the route in Louisiana, may not show up until 2020, when the department hopes to capitalize on additional funding scheduled to be gained through the Vehicle Sales Tax.
In response to a question from state Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, Secretary of Transportation and Development Sherri LeBas told the Senate Finance Committee on Monday that bids were taken for work at the intersection of U.S. 90 and La. 318 in St. Mary Parish, along the route. The low bid of about $55 million came in about $4 million under the projection; a contract may be signed by May or June.
LeBas said that St. Mary project would leave an intersection at U.S. 90 and Ambassador Caffery in Lafayette and an intersection of U.S. and La. 88 in St. Martin Parish as the lone projects remaining for I-49 south below the Lafayette airport to St. Mary. The remainder of the route between those points meet standards for interstate highways.
LeBas said a consultant is at work on the Lafayette Connector, which would run from Interstate 10 to Pinhook Road.
The good news, she said, is that design work is progressing and will be well along when the Vehicle Sales Tax money — she said it would provide around $400 million a year — becomes available, probably in 2020. The Lafayette Connector alone will cost about $750 million.
LeBas appeared before the finance committee Monday morning to discuss her department’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, expressed concern to LeBas about state bridges that were out of service in his area, which includes St. Landry Parish, especially bridges in rural areas. He asked about the possibility of building lower-cost bridges, perhaps using timber, to replace some of those. He suggested it might be better to build several lower-cost bridges than one expensive bridge.
LeBas said she would review that possibility.
Department of Public Safety Secretary James LeBlanc told the Senate Finance committee that the state prison population is declining and the average cost of housing a prisoner remains lower in Louisiana than elsewhere. He said the state pays $36.59 a day to house a prisoner, on average. That includes state, local and private facilities. The cost of housing a prisoner in North Carolina is some $75 a day, one committee member said.
Nonetheless, Louisiana continues to have the country’s highest incarceration rate: about 840 prisoners per 100,000 people, LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said the projected fiscal 2016 budget of $785.6 million was OK and that reductions of some $25 million were “manageable,” given the decrease in prisoners.
“It’s not anywhere like it was,” he said. “We had reached the breaking point.”
Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, said State Police had 1,015 state trooper commissioned officers as of January. The number of troopers had been as low as 917, after five years with no trooper classes.
Edmonson said one class was graduated in 2014, one graduated earlier this year and a third class will graduate by the end of the year. He said the recommended budget of $52,799,104 was “barebones,” but that the State Police would do what was needed to protect the public.
“I just want to have the tools in their toolbox so they can effectively do their job,” he said.
He said the department could not sustain additional cuts and remain as effective.
BY MARK NIQUETTE
Bloomberg News (TNS)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -U.S. states are taking more financial responsibility
for roads and bridges as the expiration of federal transportation
funding approaches, straining a partnership that dates to the
administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.
At least six states have delayed about $2 billion in construction
projects because of the uncertainty, and others are making contingency
plans to pay contractors. Five states, all with Republican governors,
increased fuel taxes this year, while Minnesota and Michigan are
pursuing legislation or ballot measures to raise additional money.
The Congressional Budget Office projects that the U.S. Highway Trust
Fund, which provides federal dollars for roads and transit, will
become insolvent after the current funding bill, itself only a
10-month fix, ends May 31. There’s been no long-term funding plan
since 2009, and Congress has failed to address an estimated $58
billion annual shortfall for surface transportation. States are
charting their own courses.
”They have to do that,” Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation
John Schroer said. ”I don’t think we have any other option.”
States accounted for 40 percent of the average $213 billion in annual
highway and transit spending from 2008 to 2012, with local entities
paying 35 percent and the federal government 25 percent, according to
the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington. Yet in some states, federal
funding accounts for more than half the transportation budget.
While U.S. infrastructure deteriorated, spending declined as cars
became more fuel efficient and collections from state and federal
gasoline taxes declined. Expenditures at all levels fell $27 billion,
or 12 percent, between 2002 and 2011, and revenue for the Highway
Trust Fund has fallen short of expenditures for more than a decade,
About $163 billion is needed annually over a six-year period for
highways, bridges and transit systems, yet only about $105 billion is
being invested, according to a December report from the American
Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the
American Public Transportation Association.
The needs are pressing enough that even when states raise revenue,
they can’t afford to lose dollars from Washington, U.S. Transportation
Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
”The federal funding is still foundational,” Foxx told reporters in
Washington last week. ”They could take one step forward and two steps
back if the federal government ends up going over this cliff.”
The Obama administration has proposed a six-year, $478 billion plan,
and there have been proposals that include raising the federal
gasoline levy or taxing U.S. companies’ offshore profits brought home.
None has advanced.
Amid the uncertainty, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee
and Wyoming have delayed construction projects totaling about $2
billion, and more are likely to as the deadline approaches, according
to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Some states, including Iowa, are proceeding with the expectation of
continued funding, and planning to borrow to pay contractors if that
doesn’t happen, said Jim Tymon, chief operating officer of the highway
The roles of federal and state governments are changing by default as
Congress fails to act, said Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center
for Transportation, a nonpartisan policy research group in Washington.
Published: Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 10:34 p.m.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter pledged support today for local projects including the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection levee system and the Interstate 49 corridor between New Orleans and Lafayette.
Vitter, R-New Orleans and a candidate for governor, said there is potential for state and federal money for the Morganza project. But the Army Corps of Engineers will have to cut costs and economize first.
“I’m going to be very focused, hopefully as governor, to line up support for that so we can actually start doing some specific portions of Morganza sooner rather than later,” he said while attending the South Central Industrial Association crawfish boil at Southdown Museum.
Vitter also said he would make the I-49 project, which has been strapped for money, a priority in the coming months and years.
“That’s the single most important infrastructure project in the state, period, bar none,” Vitter said.
Vitter said he is working to inform his colleagues on Capitol Hill of the effects of a federal flood protection executive order President Barack Obama issued on Jan. 30.
The purpose of the order, which strengthens flood elevation requirements on federally funded construction projects, is to protect federal investments from storm and flood damage.
However, Vitter and dozens of local and state officials are concerned about the potential of unintended consequences.
“It’s a real threat to us because it could dry up a lot of activity in a lot of parts of the country, not just in south Louisiana,” Vitter said. “It’s so vague and so ill-defined that it makes people particularly nervous because we really don’t know what it might involve.”
Vitter said he and his colleagues from other coastal states are working to “educate the federal government” on some of the implications of the order.
He compared working to block the executive order to the repeal of the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2014.
“It started from most members of Congress not really understanding what was involved,” he said.
“We launched a good education effort that was successful,” he said. “We need to do roughly the same thing with this issue.”
Vitter also took issue with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s support for capping the state inventory tax refund to the amount of money owed to the state. Jindal also said he supports repealing the tax, which is paid to parish governments.
The state refunds the tax assessed on businesses’ inventories for the full amount.
“The governor’s inventory tax proposal is a very bad idea. Because it would really back us up in terms of job creation and economic development,” he said. “I’m hopeful that as I speak out and others speak out that’s not going to pass this legislative session.”
Business owners argue capping the refund would hamper growth while local governments argue that a total repeal of the tax would carve significant portions out of local budgets.
In Terrebonne Parish, the loss of the inventory tax revenue would constitute a $10.3 million annual budget hole.
However, Vitter supports the repeal of the tax. But he thinks Jindal is going about it the wrong way.
According to his recently released plan, “Together Louisiana Strong,” Vitter would repeal the tax and the credit, while adding support money to offset the loss for local governments.
He said his campaign for governor will highlight “strong leadership.”
“Most of these people are ready, even hungry or desperate, for strong leadership, for having us face the issues and not just kick the can down the road,” he said.
Road, bridge aid sparking spate of bills in Legislature
BY WILL SENTELL
After years of complaints but few solutions, Louisiana’s roads and
bridges are suddenly sparking heavy interest in the Legislature.
Despite long odds, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St.
Germain, D-Pierre Part, wants to boost state aid for roads and bridges
by $675 million per year by increasing the state sales tax by 1 cent.
That would raise about $7 billion over 10 years – the most sweeping
such proposal since a $3 billion highway plan died in 2011 within
hours of being announced and without a single vote being taken.
A total of 15 projects would benefit, including construction of a new
bridge over the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, upgrades at the
Port of New Orleans to handle bigger ships and improving Interstate 49
between Lafayette and Broussard.
Kenneth Naquin, chief executive officer of Louisiana Associated
General Contractors Inc., said Louisiana is on the cusp of an
industrial expansion of up to $150 billion. ”We do not have the
infrastructure to handle that,” he said.
”What do we do? Do we sit on our hands?” he asked.
In another uphill battle, St. Germain wants to enact a ”floating”
gas tax of up to 25 cents per gallon, depending on the average price
at the pump. That could raise up to $750 million per year.
Both proposals – House Bill 778 to boost the sales tax and House Bill
777 for the floating tax – will soon get their first tests in the
House Ways and Means Committee.
Meanwhile, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley,
R-Benton, has offered a proposal that would accelerate plans to
gradually move up to $400 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenue
from Louisiana’s general revenue fund to one for transportation only.
Also, Adley and St. Germain are sponsoring a plan – House Bill 712 –
that would boost the state’s gasoline tax by 4 cents per gallon, with
the dollars dedicated strictly for parish needs.
Adley, who is sponsoring other key transportation bills as well,
thinks something substantive on transportation will emerge from the
2015 Legislature, which ends on June 11. ”I think there will be some
momentum for it,” he said.
Motorists now pay 38.4 cents per gallon in state and federal gasoline taxes.
Other proposals – House Bill 208 and Senate Bill 123 – would
drastically trim or eliminate the annual transfer of state road and
bridge dollars to State Police.
Two additional measures – House Bill 157 and Senate Bill 160 – would
require that at least 15 percent of future state surpluses be used for
”We are just looking at some way of generating funds,” said state
Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, sponsor of the House version.
However, any road and bridge bills that boost taxes, as in past years,
face massive hurdles.
Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes any tax hikes without corresponding cuts elsewhere.
”There is so much opposition from the Governor’s Office,” said Ken
Perret, president of the Louisiana Good Roads & Transportation
”The likelihood of those bills being enacted is pretty remote,”
Perret said of the sweeping proposals. ”But it is kind of setting the
groundwork for the future.”
In addition, any tax increase requires the support of twothirds of the
House and Senate – 70 and 26 votes respectively – and 2015 is an
Adley and St. Germain are term-limited, which means they are serving
their final year in the Legislature.
All the discussions are taking place amid a $12 billion backlog of
road and bridge projects and a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall to keep
state spending at current levels.
The Legislature in 2008 voted to redirect about $400 million per year
in motor vehicle sales tax dollars from the general fund, which
finances a wide range of state services, to the state’s Transportation
Trust Fund, which is for transportation only.
However, Adley said it is unlikely state revenue will meet the
required thresholds before 2021 or so, which he said is too long to
He is sponsoring Senate Bill 221, which would start gradually
rerouting the money in 2016 and replace the loss of general revenue
dollars with money from other sources.
Last week, House Bill 208 by Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, to
gradually all but eliminate the yearly transfer of $65 million in road
and bridge dollars to State Police, won approval in the House
Appropriations Committee. It is set for a House vote on Monday.
St. Germain said that, without a sweeping tax hike, major road and
bridge improvements simply will not happen.
”This is going to be a policy decision,” she said.
The road less traveled
Nearly five years after the Audubon Bridge opened between St.
Francisville and New Roads, the bridge is still carrying less traffic
than it was projected to carry the day they cut the ribbon to open it.
VEHICLES PER DAY
PROJECTED IN 2011
COUNT IN MAY 2012
PROJECTED FOR 2020
PROJECTED FOR 2040
Leaders say bridge spurring growth, but other parishes say their needs greater
BY TERRY L. JONES
The path to the $409 million John James Audubon Bridge continues to be
the road less traveled.
Nearly four years after the bridge connecting West Feliciana and
Pointe Coupee parishes opened in May 2011, it has yet to carry the
volume of traffic across the Mississippi River projected from the
first day motorists were able to use it.
A consulting group that managed the cable-stayed bridge’s construction
estimated it would carry 4,000 vehicles a day from the start. A year
later, 2,900 vehicles were using it. And the most recent data
available puts the traffic volume at 3,400 vehicles.
Some are skeptical that the traffic volume will reach the 6,500
vehicles projected for 2020 and more than triple that to 22,960 by
2040, but economic development officials in Pointe Coupee and West
Feliciana say they are optimistic about the future for a bridge that
has spurred growth in those parishes.
Among those who view the Audubon Bridge with a more jaundiced eye is
West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley ”Peewee” Berthelot. He
watched the bridge get funded and constructed up the river from his
parish even as traffic on La. 1 in West Baton Rouge continued to stack
up, along with daily delays on the heavily traveled Mississippi River
bridge from Baton Rouge.
”These bridges are built where politicians want them to go, not where
they are needed,” Berthelot said.
Les Cantrell, Pointe Coupee’s economic development director, though,
said the bridge is bringing more commerce to the parish, noting the
expansion or opening of about 30 new businesses within the last 18
”We’re seeing great benefits,” Cantrell said. State and parish
officials remain optimistic that traffic over the bridge will continue
to grow as the bridge serves its intended purpose as an economic
development tool for the two parishes it connects.
DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett said the projection models for the
Audubon Bridge were based on the number of people who used the old St.
Francisville-New Roads ferry system, a diversion of a percentage of
travelers from the U.S. 190 bridge and Natchez bridges and a
redistribution of the current traffic patterns at the time with annual
increases in traffic volume.
The Audubon Bridge’s construction was part of the state’s
Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development Program,
which was established by Act 16 of the 1989 legislative session. The
program is funded with a dedicated 4-cents-per-gallon, voter-approved
Mallett said the TIMED Program included 16 specific projects aimed at
spurring economic development in Louisiana, not traffic congestion
But relief of traffic congestion is the primary concern of Berthelot,
who points to daily traffic woes his parish faces along the I-10
Mississippi River bridge and Intracoastal Waterway bridge on La. 1.
According to DOTD’s 2013 traffic count, the I-10 Mississippi River
bridge is flooded with a stream of 102,350 cars each day.
DOTD traffic data also shows that approximately 47,000 vehicles travel
each day on La. 1 near the Intracoastal Waterway bridge in West Baton
Rouge, but only 24,573 people live in West Baton Rouge Parish,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Berthelot and other parish officials are now urging state leaders to
consider building a new bridge over the Mississippi River that would
likely connect La. 1 and La. 30.
Iberville Parish officials are starting to speak up, too, with their
desire to see a new bridge built somewhere in their parish to connect
East and West Iberville.
Berthelot, though, believes his parish has a stronger claim for
another bridge based on sheer traffic volume.
”This shouldn’t be about who wants a bridge; it needs to be data
driven,” Berthelot said. ”We don’t need to build another bridge when
it’s not going to do what it’s designed to do, and that’s move
Projects in the $5.2 billion TIMED Program also included widening 536
miles of state highways and widening the Huey P. Long Bridge in
Jefferson Parish, Mallett said.
The program included improvements to both the Port of New Orleans and
Louis Armstrong International Airport.
The Audubon Bridge project included nearly 12 miles of new access
road, most of which is in Pointe Coupee Parish. The access road
connects to La. 1 in New Roads, linking Pointe Coupee with Avoyelles
and Rapides parishes.
Mallett said at the time the legislation was passed by a vote of 30-7
in the Senate, there was a study underway to replace the St.
Francisville Ferry, which closed the same day the bridge opened.
According to DOTD, the ferry carted about 720 vehicles across the
river each day.
”The TIMED Program was a statewide ‘economic development’ project and
the John James Audubon Bridge was considered an important factor for
economic development for the La. 10 corridor,” Mallett said.
Cantrell, Pointe Coupee’s economic development director, said the
parish already has experienced a 5.6 percent hike in sales tax revenue
since the bridge’s opening, a number that jumps to 24 percent in New
Cantrell attributes much of that to the increase in traffic flow the
Audubon Bridge has pulled into the parish’s new Super Wal-Mart and
other new or expanded businesses.
Cantrell said the parish has also better positioned itself as a
shovel-ready area for large industrial developments through the
creation of six certified industrial sites on more than 4,000 acres of
undeveloped land. ”With that Super Wal-Mart coming in, we’re noticing
a lot of traffic come across the bridge into the New Roads area. When
I see new faces, I ask where they’re from and about half a dozen tell
me they live in West Feliciana,” he said.
As for the daily traffic being under original projections, Cantrell
attributes that to the bridge opening nearly 10 years before it was
originally supposed to open, in 2020.
”We never had a grand opening where we got all the press about it,”
Cantrell said. ”I think that hurt to some extent. Over time, people
had to find it.”
West Feliciana Parish hasn’t reaped the same economic rewards as
Pointe Coupee so far, but the bridge and a new business growth plan
could soon change that.
”There are two perspectives that are really important to identify
when talking about this,” said Bettsie Norton, West Feliciana
Parish’s economic development director. ”Has there been a lot of
traffic on the bridge? No, there has not. Numbers don’t lie. But you
have to understand the longterm perspective for the economic
development strategy for our parish.”
Norton said the parish is confident the bridge’s traffic will pick up
and eventually hit its daily traffic projections as more people move
to West Feliciana Parish as growth in many of the surrounding parishes
in the Baton Rouge metro area becomes stagnant.
”They’re pretty much getting to capacity in regards to what their
infrastructure can sustain,” she said. ”We’re actively going to
recruit those families that are tired of fighting traffic in Baton
Rouge, tired of paying tuition for private school and want their kids
to attend good public schools. We have some really great quality of
life aspects here in the parish.”
She added, ”We love the fact that (the bridge) connects us to our
friends in Pointe Coupee. Let’s be honest, they have larger population
and they have things that our parish can’t sustain.”