Saturday, April 13, 2024

Rejected tolls on Calcasieu I-10 bridge project creates worries for new Miss. River span

by BIZ Magazine

By Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator

Planning work continues on a new bridge across the Mississippi River to alleviate local traffic on Interstate 10 through Baton Rouge, a consultant for the project said Monday. Tolls are being considered to help pay for the $3 billion crossing, but a recent vote from state lawmakers to scrap a comparable project has put planners on notice.   

The three paths under consideration for the new Mississippi River bridge, all in Iberville Parish, are in the second half of environmental assessments. Along with surveys for construction suitability and utilities clearance, a toll and traffic analysis will take place to measure the potential of user fees to help pay for the new bridge. 

Kara Moree, project manager for Atlas Technical Consultants, provided an update Monday for Capital Area Road and Bridge District commissioners, a group of local leaders overseeing the project and its funding. A final route is expected to be chosen later next year. 

When asked about the ongoing toll research, Moree acknowledged the recent roadblock for a toll-funded I-10 bridge over the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles. In October, state lawmakers rejected a financing plan for the $2.1 billion bridge dependent on tolls. The vote put the project on hold until officials can figure out a new funding approach, one that would likely require plenty of state dollars.

“It keeps me up at night a bit. I’m worried about it,” Moree said with a slight laugh before she explained how the proposed Mississippi River bridge differs from the Calcasieu project.

For starters, the Iberville span is not an interstate bridge, and the trucking industry, which led opposition to the Calcasieu toll, won’t rely as heavily on the Iberville bridge, Moree said. 

Given the close proximity of industry along the Mississippi River to the Iberville bridge, it was recommended that consultants look into “mitigation” in case similar opposition to tolls emerges.   

Moree added that the Mississippi River crossing doesn’t replace an existing bridge, “which I think is a little bit easier to swallow than something that you’ve been using for your whole life but now have to pay for it.”

District chairman J.H. Campbell Jr., an appointee of Gov. John Bel Edwards, said $300 million has been allocated for the Iberville bridge project along with a portion of the state vehicle sales tax.

A spokesperson for Gov.-elect Jeff Landry said he considers the new bridge a priority, The Advocate reported.

A handful of residents in Plaquemine Point stated their opposition to the route option that crosses their land, which juts out toward the river on the east bank near the town of Sunset. 

Retired state game warden Cliff Comeaux lives in the area and told district commissioners 102 animal species and more than 100 plant species found in Plaquemine Point are on conservation watch lists, including a dozen the state has designated as “species of greatest concern.”

The route in question, listed on project maps as E-11-IV, would connect Louisiana Highway 30 in East Iberville just south of University Club subdivision. It passes just upriver from the Georgia Gulf and Shintech facilities on the west bank before meeting Louisiana Highway 1. 

Another option, F-13-IV, has the same east bank terminus but crosses the river below Plaquemine Point and ends at LA 1 downriver from the two industrial facilities. 

The third route, F-14-V, has the same west bank terminus as F-13-IV, crosses the river at Sunshine and reaches LA 30 just north of St. Gabriel.     

Additional public hearings on the bridge path options are expected to take place in the spring as they move toward the next stage of environmental approval, Moree said.

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