Ken Lazard, Pastor of Destiny of Faith Church and President of the Senior Pastoral Alliance, was emboldened by the results saying, “These poll results confirm the importance of this project. Our organizations are ready to partner with the community to rally around this significant investment.”
“A diverse group of pastors, elected officials and civic leaders announced Monday a new coalition to support completing the Interstate 49 connector ‘the right way,’ which they touted as important for revitalization of neglected areas as well as economic development of the entire region.”
A video highlighting the Broussard I-49 Connector’s progress and potential has been released by the Broussard Economic Development Corporation.
“I think, ultimately, it’s the kind of mega-project that helps the entire state of Louisiana and puts us in a completely different position,” said Lafayette City-Parish President Joel Robideaux.
“The I-49 South Coalition fully supports the work of the Governor’s Task Force on Transportation Infrastructure Investment. This is a critical step in working toward a transportation funding solution for Louisiana, and completing I-49 South should be the top priority,” said David Mann, Chairman of the I-49 South Coalition
JEANERETTE — Gov. John Bel Edwards was in St. Mary Parish on Monday for a site visit to one of the interchanges that are part of the completion of the Interstate 49 South corridor.
Edwards met with State Department of Transportation and Development and local officials and several construction crew members to hear a briefing on the La. 318 interchange project on U.S. 90.
Part of the Geaux South program to turn U.S. 90 into an interstate, the ongoing project will convert the intersection into a full-access interchange that will reconstruct the existing U.S. 90 frontage roads to provide access to La. 318.
The first increase in Louisiana’s gas tax in more than a quarter of a century is all but certain to be one of the recommendations of a just underway transportation task force named by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“I think that is what you are going to see coming out of it,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville and a member of the influential committee.
The task force has only had one meeting, with another one scheduled for next month.
On July 12, the I-49 South Coalition was present at the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Transportation Infrastructure Investment. The Task Force was created to research, identify, and make recommendations on achieving sustainable recurring funding levels to address Louisiana’s $12.7 billion backlog in highway and bridge maintenance needs and on funding the construction of critical infrastructure projects across the state.
Throughout this process, the I-49 South Coalition will continue to be engaged in advocating for the completion of I-49 South as Louisiana’s top transportation investment priority.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ newly minted task force on transportation began its months-long work today, with the governor directing the group of legislators, appointed officials and experts to help the state “prioritize” infrastructure.
Edwards appointed the Task Force on Transportation Infrastructure Investment through an executive order in early June with hopes of overhauling the state’s roads, bridges and highways—a key campaign promise he made last fall.
The committee is scheduled to deliver recommendations before the end of the year, which is around the same time another task force will advise Edwards and the Legislature on how to stabilize the state budget. The recommendations will help Edwards guide his 2017 agenda.
“The Easter bunny isn’t going to deliver these transportation projects,” Edwards said. “We are going to have to explore revenue options to fund this investment … the resources are simply not there.”
The task force quickly introduced the gas tax as a means of funding for transportation projects. Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson pointed to the problems that have arisen from funding highways with one-time money.
Louisiana’s last major tax on gasoline, a 16-cent excise tax, began in 1984. In today’s dollars, Edwards and Wilson noted, that tax amounts to seven cents, since it was not indexed to inflation.
“Many people say more taxes are not the answer,” Wilson said. “But had we done that, our backlog would not be at $12.7 billion today.”
Louisiana has a 38.4-cent total gasoline tax, which includes a four-cent state tax levied in 1990 for the TIMED program—which invested in highways, roads, ports and airports—and an 18.4-cent federal tax in 1993.
Wilson pitched the gas tax as a centerpiece of tackling the multibillion-dollar backlog in infrastructure projects, noting that Louisiana ranks 40th in the country for state tax on gasoline.
“The gas tax is not the only option,” he said, “but it is a standard practice and it is a best practice of many states. That 16 cents is really not a lot.”
DOTD Deputy Secretary Eric Kalivoda highlighted the state’s aging bridges, most of which were built in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
“These are not going to last forever,” he says. “People think the interstate is relatively new. It’s not. And we’re going to have to address it sooner or later.”
The task force will travel throughout the state to get input from local communities and address infrastructure and economic development needs. Wilson said he will invite Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson to work with the group on economic issues.
BY WILL SENTELL| WSENTELL@THEADVOCATE.COM
A push that may produce the most sweeping changes in Louisiana’s roads and bridges in nearly 30 years gets underway Tuesday.
A transportation task force named by Gov. John Bel Edwards is set to hold its first meeting. Six months later, it is supposed to make recommendations for the 2017 Legislature.
Legislative, industry and business leaders are on the panel, which means any agreement also backed by Edwards stands a good chance of becoming reality.
Proposals to increase the state gasoline and other taxes are likely. A plan to ease congestion in some of the state’s most troubled spots, including Baton Rouge, is also expected.
If the task force reaches a consensus — no easy assignment — it could pave the way for the biggest transportation overhaul in Louisiana since the late 1980s.
“The timing is certainly right,” Dardenne said.
The last similar push took place in 1989, when voters approved funding for 16 road and bridge projects known as TIMED.
The initial price tag for the 16 projects was $1.4 billion. The latest estimate is $5.2 billion, and two of the projects are still years away from completion.
This year’s study group faces a daunting challenge.
Louisiana has a long-standing, $12.7 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, including maintenance.
It also has a $10.5 billion list of mega projects, including construction of a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, that is part of the governor’s call for study.
Edwards has said it is “painfully obvious that something needs to be done.”
However, more money is needed to make it happen, right on the heels of $1.6 billion in tax hikes the Legislature took this year amid state budget problems.
And more money means tax increases that require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate — 70 and 26 votes, respectively.
“Item No. 1 is going to be consideration of whether there is a straight-up hike in gas taxes,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council and a member of the task force.
But Scott said the panel first needs to take a look at how the state Department of Transportation and Development is spending money now, and whether there are ways to come up with more efficient operations.
“Otherwise, it is going to be a very tough sale,” he said.
How DOTD spends its money now is one of the first items on the agenda for Tuesday’s 9 a.m. meeting, said DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, co-chair of the panel.
“We expect to kind of review what the expectations are and lay out the priorities and goals of the task force,” Wilson said. “We want to make sure we are balanced in that we address all the different modes of transportation.”
Monthly meetings are likely. Regional gatherings are also on the agenda.
Edwards is scheduled to address the group Tuesday.
Not surprisingly, the 18-member panel has a clear tilt in favor of a sweeping transportation package.
The influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which opposed some of Edwards’ tax hike proposals during two special sessions this year, is notably absent from the committee.
However, LABI President Stephen Waguespack praised the effort.
He said task force member Reldon Owens, of Alexandria, a member of Blueprint Louisiana, gives LABI a strong voice. “There is no doubt the transportation issue is an enormous issue facing the state,” Waguespack said.
“We have big challenges,” he said. “I am hopeful the task force comes up with some recommendations.”
Always congested Baton Rouge has to be one of the priorities, said Ann Trappey, an engineer, chairwoman of the board of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and a member of the task force.
“We need infrastructure more than any other region in the state,” Trappey said. “If you drive in Baton Rouge traffic, you see.”
She added, “If the Baton Rouge region isn’t successful from an economic development standpoint, neither is the rest of the state.”
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon in Louisiana for state and federal gasoline taxes.
That includes 16 cents for rank-and-file projects and 4 cents, and gradually more, to retire the TIMED project debts.
Raising the gas tax is not the only possibility.
Another plan would link the tax to inflation. A third idea would rely in part on public-private partnerships to finance mega projects.
Allowing local communities to come up with their own transportation financing plans has been mentioned.
So has a mileage tax.
The task force kicks off its work just weeks after Edwards failed to win approval for some of his tax plans that needed two-thirds majorities in the Legislature.
“We have seen that is not always easy,” Dardenne said.
“But there is an appetite in the Legislature for some longer-term solutions with infrastructure problems,” he said. “And we cannot get there with the existing pennies.”