Governor John Bel Edwards announced on Monday that he will inject $500 million in funding for the construction of a new bridge over the Mississippi River.
The funding proposal marks the largest investment yet for the project, which has been discussed for decades.
“This is tangible funding that turns what was a dream into a reality,” Edwards said during his press conference at the State Capitol. “This is the state’s highest infrastructure priority.”
The proposal has yet to gain legislative approval, but the governor’s intentions bring the largest vote of confidence yet for the project, West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot said.
“I had no idea they would commit so much money to the project,” he said. “Of course, it still has to go through the draft legislative approval, but we’re excited about it.”
The talk of another Mississippi bridge has been circulating for more than 30 years, but budget hurdles have kept it from moving beyond discussion.
Meanwhile, traffic jams on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge – completed in 1968 – have become among the worst in the country.
The site selection process continues for the project. Berthelot sees the Addis area as an ideal site for the project, while Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso believes the area between Plaquemine and White Castle would be most suitable.
The state’s dedication to the project will reflect a firm intention to finally bring the project to fruition, said DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson.
The time required for the project works will have an inevitable effect, he said.
Wilson estimates that the total cost of the project would be between $800 and $900 million in “today’s dollars”.
How long it would take to complete the projects remains the biggest question.
Wilson said he “doesn’t have a crystal ball” to determine the timeframe, but construction inflation is typically 2.5% per year.
“And that was a supply chain and pre-inflation issue,” he said. “The project is going to get exponentially expensive.”
But pressing ahead with getting the project started will eventually pay off, he said.
“The federal government expects full commitment,” he said.
The DOTD plans to create a connector route from Interstate 10 to redirect traffic to the new bridge, which would create a connection between La. 1 on the west side and La. 30 on the east side.
The connector road itself will play a vital role in the project, Wilson said.
“Building a bridge without a connecting road to I-10 is not the answer,” he said. “You have to get to I-10 from La. 1 and I-10 from La. 30 for it to make sense — and if we’re just building the bridge, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
He said it was premature to estimate exactly how much more it would cost, although he expects the price to rise by at least $200 million.
Incoming state revenues, along with federal government funding mechanisms, will make the project possible.
“You’re not just going to get a billion dollars from the federal government for a single project, so we’re going to have to use an ‘all of the above’ approach like we’ve done in this administration, and we would consider using that same approach to delivering the elements that are more expensive than the bridge,” Wilson said. “It makes sense to start with the structure of the bridge and then augment those others so that we can do what we need to do to connect those roads.”
The funding also includes $500 million for the construction of an Interstate 10 bridge in Lake Charles, which would replace a structure completed in 1952.