By Sean Green, firstname.lastname@example.org
Work is officially underway to create a new entrance to Barksdale Air Force Base and local leaders joined state officials Wednesday in celebrating the achievement.
Gov. John Bel Edwards was on hand for the groundbreaking of the I-20/I-220 BAFB Interchange Project. The $71.8 million project will create a new access road into BAFB extending southward from the existing I-20/I-220 interchange.
“In my first meeting with the leadership at Barksdale Air Force Base, I found out the No. 1 priority on their wish list was a new access point off the interstate, and had been for decades,” Gov. Edwards said. “Two-thirds of our nation’s nuclear triad is controlled here at Barksdale and it’s sitting beside the interstate without an ingress and egress.”
The project had been a part of the state’s Transportation Master Plan for many years, and until recently, had no environmental clearance or funding source identified. In January 2018, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), moved to utilize Grant Anticipation Revenue (GARVEE) bonds for funding and utilized the design-build method of project delivery that expedites project delivery by combining the design and construction phases.
In just 18 months, seven phases in the process had been completed simultaneously.
“It’s a big day for us because we don’t like to see stuff unfinished. In Bossier, it doesn’t seem right,” said Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City. “When I got elected, I sat down with leaders in Bossier Parish and asked them if they had a magic wand, what their first project would be and they said this.”
Bossier Parish Police Jury President Doug Rimmer noted that when the long-awaited project was moving forward, “Bossier was ready, as always, to do more.”
“We are in a great place to attract new missions. Barksdale is precious to us and when the base needs something, we stand ready,” Rimmer added.
The new road and gate will take into account projected population growth and increased traffic counts, serve to greatly enhance security, and will alleviate traffic congestion at other base entrance points. It will also improve access times for Barksdale employees and their families, providing easier commutes.
Col. Michael Miller, commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing at BAFB, noted the project is important for the area but also the entire country.
“This is huge for the mission of Barksdale. This gives us room to grow the mission at Barksdale Air Force Base,” Col. Miller said. “It also will make a difference to the quality of life of the men and women of Barksdale.”
Gov. Edwards echoed this by pointing out that BAFB is a “pillar of national security but also very important to the local economy.”
“This project signifies we are committed to Barksdale and Bossier,” Gov. Edwards said.
Gatti credited Gov. Edwards for making the project happen, saying Edwards recognized Barksdale’s importance and made it a priority to dedicate a portion of the GARVEE bonds to the project.
“When he was elected, he didn’t win Bossier. And the majority of people that will be using this road cast votes in Florida and Texas. It doesn’t make political sense to do this. And that’s why it had never been done before now, because it doesn’t equate into votes. But the governor said this needs to get done,” Gatti said. “That is the type of government we strive for. Let’s remember this day when Republicans and Democrats put politics aside for what’s best for our area.”
That sentiment was seconded by State Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton.
“Today is the day where people come before politics,” she said. “This is a project years in the making. So many people before us laid the foundation and today is the result of their hard work.”
Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker said the groundbreaking is proof that northwest Louisiana can get things done.
“I can’t say enough about the tough decision the governor made, but he made right decision,” Walker added.
Dr. Shawn Wilson, secretary of DOTD, said the project is an example of how the state seeks innovative funding methods and stretches every dollar for use in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
“We’re connecting two heavily traveled interstates with one of the largest military installations in the nation,” said Dr. Wilson.
Construction work is expected to begin late summer 2019, with an anticipated project completion of fall 2021.