Capital Area Bridge Commission discusses federal assistance

John Dupont
A tattered Louisiana flag waves in front of the Plaquemine ferry.

Funding streams could be available on the federal level to move forward on plans for a new Mississippi River Bridge, according to Congressman Graves.

Much of the work on the prioritization of the project will have to come from the federal level, he said Monday during a meeting of the Capital Area Bridge Commission at the Claiborne Building, adjacent to the State Capitol.

We need to do a better job of prioritizing the dollars on the federal level for the things that matter, like roads and bridges,” said Graves, R-Louisiana. “We also need to make certain we have a significant rate of return – and there’s no question this project has a great return on the investment.”

The process now on Capital Hill is focused on ensuring more federal dollars go to projects that involve roads and bridges, he said.

Focus now must hinge on how to prioritize the project and how to do a better job improving efficiency and development of the project.

Right now, you’re all making the right move by determining what the project is, and I think that’s a very important step in trying to secure additional funding for the project,” he said.

The last federal highway bill was brokered in 2015 with billions of dollars in federal grant opportunity – something that could benefit the Mississippi River Bridge project, Graves said.

We put in specific criteria that stated that any place in the United States where traffic funnels, like we do, should be a priority in this project, along with corresponding modes of transportation such as a railroad and a port,” he said. “Anything that benefits national energy security is also prioritized.”

Construction of an additional bridge across the Mississippi River bridge will likely hinge upon private-public partnerships, but it would involve an intricate balance of the two parties, according to the head of state transportation.

The public support puts the project in the right direction, but the project will require time, patience and communication, DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said.

A public/private partnership can maximize the failure and use of transportation assets, and fill the gap created by what Wilson called “an antiquated” gas tax through the leveraging of private investment.

While government is not a business, we have undervalued risk, and we need to spread it to our stockholders and citizens to minimize the impact,” Wilson said.

It could also get the project off the ground sooner, he said.

By putting dollars at the front end of the table, it allows us to maximize the amount of federal dollars for the project,” he said.

Wilson emphasized that the success or failure of the project depends on what happens in the partnership.

The next steps of the process would involve the hiring on a full-time project manager and to remain focused on the funding sustainability for the system and the project.

You’re talking about a long-term agreement of 20 or 30 years or – in many cases – much longer in terms of price of the project,” Wilson said. “We all know, however, that it is feasible and desired.”