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Infrastructure progress in Southwest Louisiana

Posted by: George Swift on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Two recent developments have given encouragement to solving some of the infrastructure issues in Southwest Louisiana.

Bids were opened on the I-210 bridge repair project with the apparent low bidder Kiewit Louisiana Co. for $44.5 million. Most significant is the length of time for the project of 365 days. The project was originally expected to take up to three years — which would have been devastating to our industries, casinos and businesses along the 210 corridor, as well as individuals throughout our region.

The attention focused on the I-210 bridge project demonstrates positive effects when we work together. A number of stakeholders paid for a study by economist Dr. Michael Kurth which showed the impact on the construction delays. The study was a collaborative effort funded by The Lake Area Industry Alliance, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, Golden Nugget, L’Auberge, and the SWLA Alliance.

At the same time Mayor Nic Hunter and the Lake Charles City Council along with President Judd Bares and the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury were busy coming up with a plan for extra financial incentives to quicken the construction.

Again, our industries, through LAIA, stepped up with other stakeholders to match local government incentives. Our SW La. legislative delegation weighed in. DOTD Secretary Shaw Wilson listened to local interests and saw to it that the construction time was accelerated, a win for all.

Another major development is the federal funding from the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of $103 million for operation and maintenance work on the Calcasieu River Ship Channel.

“The Calcasieu River Ship Channel, serving nearly 50 companies operating in the Port of Lake Charles, is one of the nation’s most important deep-draft waterways,” said Col. Michael Clancy, commander of the New Orleans District.

Approximately $26 million of the funding will be used to dredge the channel to its authorized dimensions to promote safe passage for the tankers and other vessels, while $10 million will be applied toward maintenance of the project’s dredge material placement facilities (disposal sites).

Normal maintenance of these sites has been deferred because funds to do so were not available. The remaining funds will be used to undertake a variety of rock projects. Additional work not included in the supplemental funding will still be required to secure the channel’s future reliability.

This additional work includes addressing an existing shortage in sediment disposal capacity by rebuilding 21 disposal sites located along the 36-mile channel from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Charles.

Funding for this work must be obtained through separate construction-designated funding and requires a 25 percent cost share from the non-federal sponsor — The Port of Lake Charles acting on behalf of the state of Louisiana.

“We are extremely pleased and thankful for the supplemental funding for the channel,”said Bill Rase, executive director of the Port. “It will be used by the Corps for some much needed maintenance of the channel and disposal areas. However, the funds can’t be spent on rebuilding the disposal sites so we will continue to look for long-term funding solutions for the local cost share of adding capacity to the disposal sites and the real estate needed for the sites.”

The progress made on the I-210 project and the funding for the ship channel are encouraging. However, there’s a need for a permanent solution to the ship channel projects. Legislation by Sen. Dan Morrish will establish a Cameron/Calcasieu Navigation District which will allow voters to decide on a property millage to fix the problem.

Next is finding a solution for funding a new I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles, which is now receiving national interest. And it’s about time.

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